Energy Content of U.S. Fast-Food Restaurants Offerings

Comparing lunch and dinner menus from 1997-1998 and 2009-2012, this article assessed energy content at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, KFC, Arby’s, Jack in the Box, and Dairy Queen using the University of Minnesota Nutrition Coordinating Center (NCC) Food and Nutrient Database.

Key Findings:

  • The number of food items offered on menus increased from 670 to 1,036 during the 14-year period.
  • The median energy content of food items remained relatively stable across the time periods, specifically among the entrée and drink categories. Condiments and dessert categories gradually increased;  side items decreased.
  • Six of the eight restaurants’ median energy content of menu offerings increased or remained stable over the time period. Looking at specific food categories, however, shows mixed findings on whether energy content increased, decreased, or held constant.

This study demonstrates that over the past 14 years, fast-food chain restaurants have not decreased the energy content of their menus. Although there is some change among certain restaurants or in certain food categories, these changes may not be enough to offset increases in other food categories.