Using Fast Food Nutrition Facts to Make Healthier Menu Selections

By Turley, Jennifer | American Journal of Health Education, November-December 2009 | Go to article overview

Using Fast Food Nutrition Facts to Make Healthier Menu Selections


Turley, Jennifer, American Journal of Health Education


ABSTRACT

Objectives: This teaching idea enables students to (1) access and analyze fast food nutrition facts information (Calorie, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sugar, and sodium content); (2) decipher unhealthy and healthier food choices from fast food restaurant menus for better meal and diet planning to reduce obesity and minimize disease risk; and (3) discuss consumer tips, challenges, perceptions, and needs regarding fast foods. Target Audience: Junior high, high school, or college students, with appropriate levels of difficulty included in this paper.

INTRODUCTION

Obesity is a national and worldwide concern. (1,2) In the United States, childhood, adolescent, and adult obesity has steadily increased. In 2007, about two-thirds (67%) of all Americans were either overweight or obese. (3) Further, more children are currently in higher overweight percentile rankings, including above the 85th percentile. (4)

Overweight children and adolescents have a much higher chance of becoming obese adults, and, the earlier overweight or obesity occurs, the more severe it can be in adulthood. (1) What used to be considered adult health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes, now occurs in obese children and adolescents. (1,5)

Many public health dietary and lifestyle recommendations are published on a regular basis, the intent of which is to guide all Americans to make healthier food choices to promote health and prevent disease. Table 1 provides a summary of the most current overarching goals of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, which are also echoed in the MyPyramid food guidance system, along with the 2006 dietary recommendations from the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society. (3, 6-9)

Most fast food restaurants publish the nutrition facts information on their website. Often, this information is limited to basic nutritional data such as those found on a food package label. Minimally, total Calories, grams of total fat, saturated fatty acids (SFAs, saturated fat, sat. fat), trans fatty acids (TFAs or trans fat), carbohydrate, fiber, sugar, and protein, as well as milligrams of cholesterol (chol.) per food serving size are provided. The complete nutritional analysis of many fast food items can be accessed freely online through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutrient Data Laboratory or MyPyramid tracker.

Rarely is there a public health message that per se reveals that eating fast foods may cause obesity. The American Medical Association recently advised families to limit the consumption of meals outside the home. (5) Nearly all health experts, public and private, agree that overweight and obesity happens when a person is in positive energy balance from chronically and consistently consuming more Calories than they expend. Positive energy balance is much more likely to happen when eating outside the home or quick serve foods. (1,5) The abundance of fast food restaurants likely contributes to the rise in obesity rates. (2) Fast food restaurants make up 74% of all restaurant traffic and the foods are notoriously heavy in Calories. (10) Due to the lack of Calorie information readily available to use when making menu selections, it is not uncommon for consumers to purchase and consume more than 1000 Calories in a single fast food meal. (10) Having this information present at the point of purchase could help consumers make healthier choices because many fast food restaurants have some healthy foods available. (11) Taken together, it is easy to deduce that eating foods that are high in Calories from fast food restaurants too frequently typically promotes excess energy consumption, positive energy balance, weight gain, obesity, and a demise of human health.

OBJECTIVES

At the conclusion of this teaching strategy, instructors will have met several national credentialing standards (Table 2) (12, 13) and students will be able to (1) access and analyze fast food nutrition facts information (Calorie, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sugar, and sodium content); (2) decipher unhealthy and healthier food choices from fast food restaurant menus for better meal and diet planning to reduce obesity and minimize disease risk; and (3) discuss consumer tips, challenges, perceptions, and needs regarding fast foods. …

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