Nutritional Quality at Eight U.S. Fast-Food Chains

Fast-food restaurants are in a unique position to improve the diet quality of the U.S. population.

Fast-food restaurants’ menus often contribute to poor dietary quality, and many Americans consume fast food frequently, which leads to increasing rates of overweight and obesity. This study examines the extent to which fast-food restaurant chains have potentially improved the nutritional quality of their menu offerings.

This study looked at the nutritional quality of menu offerings at eight fast-food restaurant chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, KFC, Arby’s, Jack in the Box, and Dairy Queen. Data from the University of Minnesota Nutrition Coordinating Center Food and Nutrient Database was used to examine the time period of 1997 and 1998 to 2009 and 2010. Healthy Eating Index (HEI)-2005 scores were calculated for each restaurant menu to assess the menu offerings’ consistency with Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Key Findings:

  • The HEI-2005 scores increased overall from 45 in 1997 and 1998 to 48 in 2009 and 2010.
  • KFC had the greatest improvement, increasing their HEI-2005 score by nine points.
  • Scores improved for the meat, saturated fat, and calories from solid fats and added sugars components across the time period.

Relative to the HEI-2005 score for the U.S. population (57.5), the nutritional quality across fast-food restaurants presented in this study is of poorer quality. Given the consumption patterns of Americans, fast-food restaurants have the opportunity to improve the diet quality of the U.S. population.