The Los Angeles Times reports that after analyzing “the menu offerings from 18 fast-food chains” geared toward children, including 5,427 possible meal combinations, researchers found that only one percent of those meals, just 33, “met the recommended nutrition guidelines set by the Institute of Medicine.” The report, which was released by the analysts from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity – a leading proponent of efforts to remove sugary drinks from schools and impose a sin tax on sodas, among other initiatives – analyzed the menu offerings from 18 fast-food chains. They considered all the possible combinations of main dishes, sides and drinks – for a total of 5,427 possible meals.
The report authors noted that since the last Fast Food FACTS came out in 2010, menu offerings have greatly expanded. As a result, the number of possible kids’ meal combinations has grown by 54%. But the proportion of meals that qualify as healthful remained in the low single-digits.
Things look somewhat better for teens, who normally order off the regular menu. The proportion of options considered healthful for them was closer to 25%, according to the report.
Why focus so much on fast food? The report notes that one-third of children and 41% of teens eat fast food every day, according to a 2012 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine by researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago. And on days that do include a fast-food meal, the daily caloric intake rises by 126 for children and by 310 for teens, some of the same researchers reported this year in JAMA Pediatrics.
Still, eating out – even at fast-food restaurants – is a fact of life for many parents. For guidance on how to maximize nutrition and minimize calories at the 18 restaurants in the study, check some of the links on this Fast Food FACTS site. (In case you were wondering, the top-rated meal was Kraft mac n cheese, apples and water, served at Arby’s.)