Analysts from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity analyzed the menu offerings from 18 fast-food chains. They considered all the possible combinations of main dishes, sides and drinks, which amounted to 5,427 possible meals.
The complete list of fast-food chains included Arby’s, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Cici’s Pizza, Dairy Queen, Domino’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Jack in the Box, KFC, Little Caesars, McDonald’s, Panera Bread, Pizza Hut, Sonic, Starbucks, Subway, Taco Bell and Wendy’s.
Among the over 5,000 possible meals that could be served to children, only 33 met the recommended nutrition guidelines set by the Institute of Medicine, or less than 1% of the offerings, according to the pdf report, “Fast Food FACTS 2013,” an acronym for Food Advertising to Children and Teens Score.
The top-rated meal was Kraft mac n cheese, apples and water, served at Arby’s.
Science Now’s Karen Kaplan claims the report authors noted that since the last Fast Food FACTS came out in 2010, menu offerings have greatly expanded. The number of possible kids’ meal combinations has grown by 54%, but the proportion of meals that qualify as healthful are in the low single-digits.
According to a 2012 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine by researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago, one-third of children and 41% of teens eat fast food every day.
The same researchers reported this year in JAMA Pediatrics that when eating fast-food the daily caloric intake rises by 126 for children and by 310 for teens.
How Did They Arrive at The Nutrition Scores?
According to the Fast Food F.A.C.T.S. website, nutrition information is not always readily available in restaurants and when it is, there are still many varieties of menu items and meal combinations.
Some restaurants label particular items as “low fat” or “lighter options,” but this does not always mean they are healthy choices.
After thoroughly reviewing many nutrition profiling systems being used around the world, they adapted a system from the Nutrition Profiling model (NP) currently used by the UK’s Office of Communications (OFCOM) to identify nutritious foods that are appropriate to advertise to children on television.
It provides an overall nutrition score for a product based on its total calories and mix of healthy and unhealthy ingredients (like sugar, sodium, and fiber).
They claim this model has several advantages over other scoring systems:
1) It was developed by nutrition researchers at Oxford University independent of industry funding.
2) The calculations behind the scoring system are available to the public.
3) It is consistent with the judgment of professional nutritionists and existing nutrition science.
The Fast Food F.A.C.T.S. website broke the report down into the following categories:
Fast Food FACTS in Brief
Best and Worst Kids’ Meals
Counting Calories in Kids’ Meals
Fast Food Marketing 360° Briefs
Have Kids Meals Become Healthier?