Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: ENERGY REGULATION DURING THE ADULT LIFESPAN Title: The energy content of restaurant foods without stated calorie information

Authors
item Urban, Lorien -
item Lichtenstein, Alice -
item Gary, Christine -
item Fierstein, Jamie -
item Equi, Ashley -
item Kussmaul, Carolyn -
item Dallal, Gerard -
item Roberts, Susan -

Submitted to: Archives of Internal Medicine
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: December 5, 2012
Publication Date: July 22, 2013
Citation: Urban, L.E., Lichtenstein, A.H., Gary, C.E., Fierstein, J.L., Equi, A., Kussmaul, C., Dallal, G.E., Roberts, S.B. 2013. The energy content of restaurant foods without stated calorie information. Archives of Internal Medicine. 173(14):1292-1299.

Interpretive Summary: Self-monitoring calorie intake is an important tool in preventing and treating obesity; however, this is challenging given that there is little available information on the energy content of foods offered by non-chain restaurants, which account for approximately 50% of restaurant locations in the US. Dietary energy contents of the 42 most frequently purchased meals from the 9 most common restaurant categories was measured by bomb calorimetry. Non-chain and small chain restaurants in Boston, MA were randomly selected and 157 individual meals were analyzed. All meal categories provided excessive calories having an average of 1327 kcal (95% confidence interval [CI], 1248-1406 kcal) which is equivalent to 66% of daily required calories for an average person. Eight percent of meals provided more than 100% of the daily required calories for an average person, and different food categories had different calories, on average. Calories varied greatly for the same meal from different restaurants, but there was no statistically significant effect of restaurant establishment or size. In addition, meals in non-chain and small chain restaurants had an average of 49% more calories than the most popular meals from the largest national chain restaurants (P<.0001). National chain restaurants have been criticized for offering meals with excess dietary energy, but this study found that non-chain and small-chain restaurants, which provide no nutrition information, also provide excessive dietary energy in amounts greater than popular meals from chain restaurants. A national requirement for accurate calorie labeling in all restaurants may discourage menus offering unhealthy portions and would allow consumers to make informed choices about ordering meals that promote weight gain and obesity

Technical Abstract: Context: National recommendations for prevention and treatment of obesity emphasize reducing energy intake through self-monitoring food consumption. However, there is little information on the energy content of foods offered by non-chain restaurants, which account for approximately 50% of restaurant locations in the US. Objective: To determine the energy contents of frequently purchased meals from restaurants that do not provide information on dietary energy. Design and Setting: Dietary energy contents of the 42 most frequently purchased meals from the 9 most common restaurant categories were determined by bomb calorimetry. Non-chain and small chain restaurants were randomly selected and 157 individual meals were analyzed. Main Outcome Measure: Laboratory-measured gross energy. Results All meal categories provided excessive dietary energy. Mean energy of individual meals was 1327 kcal (95% confidence interval [CI], 1248-1406 kcal), equivalent to 66% of typical daily energy requirements. There was a significant effect of food category on meal energy (P<.05), and 8% of meals provided >100% typical daily energy requirements. Within-meal variability was large (271 kcal, average SD), and there was no significant effect of restaurant establishment or size. In addition, meal energy contents averaged 49% greater than those of popular meals from the largest national chain restaurants (P<.0001), and in subset analyses contained 19% more energy than national food database information for directly equivalent items (P=.0002). Conclusion: National chain restaurants have been criticized for offering meals with excess dietary energy. This study found that non-chain and small-chain restaurants, which provide no nutrition information, also provide excessive dietary energy, in amounts apparently greater than popular meals from chain restaurants or information in national food databases. A national requirement for accurate calorie labeling in all restaurants may discourage menus offering unhealthy portions, and would allow consumers to make informed choices about ordering meals that promote weight gain and obesity.

Last Modified: 12/25/2014
Footer Content Back to Top of Page