Fast-Food Menu Offerings Vary in Dietary Quality, But Are Consistently Poor

This study examines the nutritional environment of five U.S. fast-food restaurant chains using the Healthy Eating Index-2005.

Americans consume foods prepared outside of the home and often through fast-food restaurants where dietary quality is often lacking, and meals are often unhealthy.

The five chains included in the study were Burger King, McDonald’s, Subway, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s. Nutritional information, including information dollar or value, kids’ and healthy or nutritious menus, was gathered from restaurants on January 15, 2010. Foods were assessed on a scale of 0 to 100, where a higher score indicates a higher concordance with dietary guidance.

Key Findings:

  • Full menus for all five fast-food chains scored lower than 50 out of 100 possible points on the HEI-2005, with values ranging from 39.9 (Taco Bell) to 49.7 (Subway).
  • Components receiving the lowest scores were: total fruit, whole fruit, dark green and orange vegetables and legumes, whole grains, and sodium.
  • Scores were higher for dollar or value menus than for total menus at all chains except McDonald’s.
  • All chains’ kid’s menus received higher scores than total menus, except Taco Bell.
  • No menu or subset of menu received a score higher than 72 (Subway kid’s menu).

These findings show that the HEI may serve as a useful metric to monitor fast-food menus and uncover potential strategies for improving nutritional content.