Fast food often gets the blame for calorific meals, but new research has found that your favorite chain restaurants are dishing up meals with even more excessive calories, worsening the global obesity epidemic.
Overly large portions and food laden with sugar and fats are regularly being served in sit-down eateries, as well as fast food outlets, according to two studies published in the BMJ on Wednesday.
Contrary to popular belief, the problem — which experts say is fueling obesity, pushing up rates of diabetes, heart disease and other serious illnesses — is also not confined to the United States, the studies say.
Although the poor nutritional content of fast food has been well-documented, there has been less research into the energy content of more traditional “full-service” or sit-down restaurants.
One UK study analyzed the calories in 13,500 main meals served in 27 UK restaurant chains, of which 21 were full-service restaurants and the remainder serving fast food. A US study measured calories in the most frequently ordered meals in 116 restaurants across five countries — Brazil, China, Finland, Ghana and India — comparing them against the United States.
The calorie content of the most popular meals in British and international restaurant chains is excessive, and only a minority meet public health recommendations, the researchers found. In the global study, only China was found to serve “significantly less energy than restaurants in the US.”
Fast food, it concluded, contained on average 33% fewer calories than more formal restaurant meals.
The UK’s health agency, Public Health England, recommended that lunches and evening meals should not exceed 600 calories (also measured as kcal). But almost none of the restaurants surveyed reflected this.
“We found that the number of calories in the average restaurant meal was more than the number of calories in the average fast food meal,” said Eric Robinson, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Liverpool, who led the UK study. “A lot of people would expect there to be more calories in fast food, but our findings were counter to that.”
‘Fast food comes out as the good guy’
The average main meal dish at a fast food chain in the UK contained 751 calories, compared with an average of 1,033 at sit-down restaurants. Only 11% of full-service dishes served at the 21 restaurants studied — including Pizza Express, Zizzi and Wagamama — met the recommended limit of 600 calories, though that rose to 17% in fast food meals.
These restaurants did not respond to requests for comment.
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