Fast foods restaurants have rolled out a number of healthy-menu changes in recent years, but a new survey of popular entrée items finds the overall calorie and salt levels have remained roughly the same since 2010.
The study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tracked the nutritional content of more than 26,000 entrées sold by 213 major U.S. chain restaurants nationwide, including those on children's menu choices.
The average entrée in 2010 contained 670 calories — the same level one year later. Sodium levels only dropped from 1,515 milligrams per entrée in 2010 to 1,500 milligrams in 2011.
"Restaurant menus did not get any healthier over time," said Helen Wu, a policy and research analyst at the Institute for Population Health Improvement at UC Davis Health System.
"Across the restaurant industry, we see a pattern of one step forward, one step back. Restaurants make changes to their menus regularly, but they may make both healthy and unhealthy changes simultaneously. This study provides objective evidence that overall, we did not see a new wave of healthier entrées come in to replace less healthy ones."
The study examined restaurant menu changes in the year following passage of a federal menu-labeling mandate as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not issued final regulations directing chain restaurants to post calorie information on menus, but some restaurants, such as McDonald's, have already done so.
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