To evaluate nutritional quality, researchers relied on the Healthy Eating Index (HEI)-2005, a metric developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and used for quantifying nutritional quality. The team expected index scores would fall below the score for the American food supply 60 points of 100 due to high fat and sugar and low fruit and vegetable content. It also expected to find an increase in HEI-2005 scores among these restaurants over the 14-year period.
Across the eight restaurants, the HEI-2005 score increased over the 14-year period. However, the increase was modest, from 45 in 1997/1998 to 48 in 2009/2010. KFC showed the greatest improvement with a nine-point increase and Jack in the Box, the second greatest with a seven-point increase.
Over the study period, scores did not change for fruit, whole fruit, total vegetables, dark green and orange vegetables, legumes, total grains, whole grains, and oils. However, scores improved for meat, saturated fat, and calories from solid fats and added sugars. Scores worsened for milk/dairy and sodium.
Six of the eight restaurants improved nutritional quality consistent with public health recommendations, an important observation for reversing the rising rates of diet-related chronic disease in the U.S. KFC led the restaurants in increasing vegetables and total grains and decreasing saturated fats and solid fats and added sugars.
The overall nutritional quality score associated with these eight restaurants, 48, fell below that of the average American diet in general, 55, which the USDA considers far from optimal.
"Given the role of fast food in Americans' diets, restaurants are in a unique position to help improve the diet quality in the U.S. by improving the nutritional quality of menu offerings," concludes Dr. Hearst. "Modest improvements in average nutritional quality of m
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Elsevier Health Sciences