Earlier this week, I was interviewed by a local news reporter who posed the question “Is fast food getting healthier?” The reporter was covering the story of Holy Chicken, a new fast food restaurant created by Morgan Spurlock, director of the documentary Super Size Me, slated to open its first location in Central Ohio this weekend.
Anyone familiar with Super Size Me will detect the irony in this new business venture. In the documentary, Spurlock ate exclusively fast food for an entire month and suffered the health consequences of doing so. Given that experience, does the opening of Holy Chicken indicate that fast food has become healthier in the twelve years since Super Size Me was released?
In some ways, the fast food restaurant industry has taken steps to make healthier choices more available to consumers, such as posting nutrition information on menu boards, including fruit in kids’ meals, and removing sugar sweetened beverages from kids’ menus. A study published this month in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that removing sugar sweetened beverages from kids’ meals may be an effective strategy to reduce childhood obesity. However, research also indicates that children consume almost twice as many calories when they eat out compared to when they eat at home. Additionally, a 2013 analysis of kids’ menus at 50 top U.S. restaurants concluded that 86 percent of kids’ meal combinations are too high in calories, 55 percent are too high in saturated fat, and 66 percent are too high in sodium.
When the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are applied to fast food restaurant offerings, most meals just don’t make the cut. Is fast food getting healthier? Possibly in some ways, but overall, it’s still challenging to find fast food meals that contain fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins without excess sugar, fat and sodium. When you eat out, look for those healthier options and make your preferences known, as restaurants respond to customer demand.