Original Article

Comparison of Children’s Menu Items at Full- and Quick-Service Restaurants

Authors: Mona A. Eissa, MD, PhD, Katherine Hearne, MPH, RDN, Nora Saavedra, MD

Abstract

Objectives: The proportion of food consumed by children from restaurants tripled during the last 4 decades and that coincided with the increased rate of obesity. Despite the presence of data linking quick-service (QS) food consumption to poor diet quality, studies comparing the nutrition content of the children’s menu items at QS restaurants (QSRs) with those at full-service restaurants (FSRs) are limited. The objectives of this study were to examine the nutrition content of common children’s menu items at both QSRs and FSRs and compare these data with recommendations reported by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020, Eighth Edition.

Methods: Using the 2014 data of the MenuStat project, 10 food items that are on both QSR and FSR children’s menus were selected. Data from each restaurant category were aggregated and the overall average of the nutritional content of each individual food item was calculated and compared between the two restaurant categories.

Results: The average of calories, fat, carbohydrates, and added sugar of most items on the children’s menu of QSRs are lower than those of FSRs. Also, most food items on children’s menus of FSRs, and to a lesser extent those of QSRs, exceeded the national recommended calories and fat content per meal.

Conclusions: Although some children’s menu items of QSRs have less fat and fewer calories compared with those of FSRs, most menu items in both FSRs and QSRs do not meet national dietary recommendations. Healthcare professionals may expand discussions with patients to include both restaurant categories when counseling them and their families on obesity prevention. Also, educating children and families about reading the nutritional content information of children’s menu items when eating out to make an informed choice can be a tool in fighting childhood obesity.

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