Adolescent Purchasing Behavior at McDonald's and Subway

Despite being considered "healthy,” adolescents are likely to purchase just as many calories at Subway as at McDonald’s.

While fast food restaurants recently have worked to market meal choices as healthy, it is unclear whether most individuals choose a healthy meal in these situations. To examine this question, this study examines whether adolescents purchasing food at Subway, a restaurant marketed as “healthy,” purchase fewer calories than at McDonald’s, a competing chain.

Conducted during May 2011, adolescents (97) aged 12 to 21 years of age in the South Los Angeles area participated. This study used each participant as his or her control to assess purchasing behavior. Adolescents ate a meal at each restaurant on different days, and submitted their receipts to the researchers for analysis.

Key Findings:

  • Adolescents purchased 1,038 calories at McDonald’s and 955 calories at Subway. The difference was not statistically significant.
  • More calories were obtained from main dishes at Subway (784 versus 572).
  • More calories, however, were obtained at McDonald’s than Subway from drinks (151 versus 61), and side dishes (201 versus 35).
  • Adolescents purchased more vegetables at Subway as compared to McDonald’s (.57 cup versus .15 cup).

Despite Subway being marketed as “healthy,” similar amounts of calories were ordered at McDonald’s, indicating that both of these fast food restaurants likely contribute to overeating.

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