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Most fast food still bad for you, study shows

Photo: Ziga Plahutar/iStockphoto

Boston — Fast-food meals have gotten slightly healthier in recent years, but most can still derail your diet, according to the results of a recent study.

A team led by researchers from Tufts University looked at more than 35,000 U.S. adults’ responses to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2003 to 2016. The respondents ate at fast-food restaurants, including fast casual establishments and full-service restaurants with wait staff. Nutrition quality was based on the American Heart Association’s 2020 diet score.

The researchers found that 70% of fast-food meals from 2015 to 2016 were of “poor dietary quality” – a slight decrease from 75% in 2003 and 2004. Around half of meals at full-service restaurants had poor nutritional quality throughout the 14-year study period.

Overall, the participants got about 21% of their calories from restaurant meals, including 12% from fast-food restaurants. Fast-food breakfasts eaten increased from a little more than 4% to almost 8% during the study period.

“Our food is the No. 1 cause of poor health in the country, representing a tremendous opportunity to reduce diet-related illness and associated health care spending,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, senior study author and dean of Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “At restaurants, two forces are at play: what’s available on the menu and what Americans are actually selecting. Efforts from the restaurant industry, consumers, advocacy groups and governments should focus on both these areas.”

The study was published in the Journal of Nutrition.

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