What's on the Menu?

A Review of the Energy and Nutritional Content of US Chain Restaurant Menus

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires restaurants with 20 or more outlets to provide caloric labeling on chain restaurant menus. This paper reports availability of nutritional content just prior to the passage of this national labeling law.

Complete nutritional information was gathered from 245 restaurants. Data were collected via restaurant website or by email request when website information was not provided. Data collection was from February through May 2010. Though the ACA was passed in March 2010, further rules are still pending in early 2012. Both regular menu and children’s menu items were analyzed using descriptive statistics and multivariate regression analysis.

Key Findings:

  • Nutritional content availability varies by cuisine. Restaurants making information less readily available have menus with higher levels of energy, fat, and sodium in comparison to those where information is available on a single file or website.

As the data was intentionally collected just prior to national labeling laws, there exists some variability as the standardized requirements are not in place yet. However, this paper offers a detailed view of chain restaurant nutrition just before nationwide labeling laws go into effect. Baseline data gathered can be evaluated to see how restaurants respond after the laws are implemented.