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Posts Tagged ‘ Fast food ’

Fast food still unhealthy: What to do

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post.

You can also read it HERE.

Fast food is known to be high in fat, sugar and salt, and frequent consumption of fast-food may contribute to a diet of poor quality, which may raise a user’s risk for overweight and chronic diseases that are diet-related (e.g., heart disease and hypertension). Indeed, when Morgan Spurlock embarked on a 30-day experiment to eat all his meals at McDonald’s, he gained 25 pounds, and his physicians were concerned with his health.

French fries and burgers are loaded with fat and salt, and oversized sodas and other sugary drinks are full of sugar. And most traditional fast-food items are loaded with calories.

With so much attention on the relationship between obesity and eating out, has the fast-food industry improved their offerings over the years? It seems that the choices today are not that much healthier, a new study says. According to the researchers, the nutritional quality of fast-food items has improved only modestly over 14 years.

The research, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, analyzed menus from eight top fast-food restaurant chains: McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Arby’s, Jack in the Box and Dairy Queen. Menus were compared from 1997/1998 with 2009/2010. According to HealthDay:

Menu scores did not change for fruit, whole fruit, total vegetables, dark green and orange vegetables, legumes, total grains, whole grains, and oils. The good news was that scores improved for meat, saturated fat, and calories from solid fats and added sugars. On the other hand, scores for milk/dairy and sodium got worse. The overall nutritional quality score of 48 associated with these eight restaurants fell below that of the average American diet.

What I have found with my own research on fast-food portion sizes, published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, is that while fast food establishments are offering some healthier items, they continue to add new larger-sized items. And large sizes just about always means more calories! As I wrote for HuffPost,

Portion sizes have continued to increase through the first decade of the 21st century. Top fast-food and restaurant chains continue to introduce new large-size portions. Food companies are introducing bigger burgers, burritos, pizzas, and sandwiches. Some of these single-serving items (meaning, they are marketed for one person) contain more than 1,000 calories. For example, Wendy’s Baconator Triple burger contains approximately 1,300 calories and Burger King Triple Whopper contains 1,140 calories.

In this new study, while modest improvements were observed in the fast-food offerings over the years, the authors stated that there is much more that can be done, especially since fast food is so ubiquitous in the diet. The authors noted that more than 25 percent of American adults eat fast food at least two times a week.

While we can hope that the food industry offer up healthier options soon, here is what you can do in the meantime if you still want to indulge in fast food.

  1. Choose a “single” burger over a double or triple.
  2. Choose a chicken dish over a meat dish. When faced with a choice between a burger or a grilled chicken salad or sandwich, I would suggest opting for the chicken.
  3. Skip the French fries. Or, if you must, opt for the “small.”
  4. Choose water instead of soda. You will save lots of calories and unneeded sugar. Water trumps diet soda as well!
  5. Add a salad to your meal.
  6. For dessert, choose whole fruit over pie. Purchase an apple instead of apple pie, for example.
  7. Eat slowly. Chew your food well. And, enjoy the company you are with.
  8. And, finally, eat fast food sparingly.
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Americans eating less fast food!

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post.

You can also read it here.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported some good news for nutrition activists and others hoping to help Americans eat healthier. A new study found that American adults are consuming fewer calories from fast food than they were several years ago.

In 2006, American consumed approximately 13 percent of calories from fast food. Data from 2010 found that adults consumed about 11 percent of their daily calories from fast food. This data included foods such as hamburgers and French fries, known for their high fat content. This is certainly a step in the right direction. Especially since two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese.

Here are some additional findings from the study:

  • Heavier people ate more calories from fast food than people who are normal weight.
  • Blacks consumed more fast food calories than both whites and Hispanics.
  • Black adults ages 20 to 39 had the highest rates of fast food consumption.
  • Americans 60 and over ate less fast food than younger adults ages 20 to 39.

During this time, caloric intake among adults did not change during these years.

A separate study reported that caloric intake among kids has decreased, revealing some more good news. This is the first decline in calorie intake among kids in more than 40 years.

Efforts such as first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign may be paying off.
As I told the Christian Science Monitor, “The take-home message is that public education messages to eat less [fast food] are working … We are shifting toward healthier options.”

Here are some thoughts that I share with USA Today, “Fast-food places continue to sell high-calorie items — many meals contain half a day’s worth of calories — but they are offering some lower-calorie items as well. Get the smallest size possible of everything from burgers to fries to soda so that you take in the fewest calories.”

Additional tips that I share with clients are:

  • Drink water instead of the soda.
  • Skip the double and triple burgers.
  • Order a salad with dressing on the side.
  • Share.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Enjoy your company.

You’d be surprised, but these small changes do add up.

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Growing portion sizes in the US: time for action

Below is my latest post for Huffington Post. I highlight key points from my latest academic paper on growing portion sizes.

The prevalence of overweight has increased in adults and children and shows no signs of decreasing. As I have previously written, large portions of unhealthy high caloric foods have indeed contributed to this problem.

In my latest paper, “Reducing Portion Sizes to Prevent Obesity: A Call to Action,” just published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine with my NYU colleague Marion Nestle, we discuss recent portion-size trends and offer several suggestions to address the problem with ever expanding food portions.

Here are some key points:

Portion sizes have continued to increase through the first decade of the 21st century. Top fast-food and restaurant chains continue to introduce new large-size portions. Food companies are introducing bigger burgers, burritos, pizzas, and sandwiches. Some of these single-serving items (meaning, they are marketed for one person) contain more than 1,000 calories. For example, Wendy’s Baconator Triple burger contains approximately 1,300 calories and Burger King Triple Whopper contains 1,140 calories.

As we illustrate in our paper, the trend toward larger portions coincides with the availability of calories in the U.S. food supply and the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity.

The food industry has not responded to pleas from public health officials to reduce portions, and most Americans have become conditioned and have come to expect larger portions. So what can we do about this continued trend toward larger portions?

We offer several approaches:

1. Education and Public Health Campaigns
Health professional should continue to advise patients on portion control and healthy eating.

2. Consistent Serving Sizes
The FDA sets standards for food labels and the USDA sets standards for dietary guidance and education. These standards are smaller than typical portions, differ from one another and may be creating more confusion. One uniform system is needed to better advise the public on the relationship between portion size, calories and weight gain.

3. Price Incentives for Small Portions
The food environment must support healthier food choices and encourage consumers to want to buy the smaller size. One way to do that would be to offer price breaks for smaller-size portions. Our current price structure encourages us to supersize. We can often get twice as much food or drink for just a few cents. We need to reverse this trend
by making the smaller size financially appealing.

4. Portion Size Limits in Food-Service Establishments
Policy approaches to limit marketplace portions should be considered. A recent policy conceived by Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, and recently approved by the Board of Health to cap the sizes of sugary drinks to 16 ounces, will be implemented in March 2013. I have been an active advocate of this policy, have previously written for Huffington Post about it, and do hope other public health departments follow in New York City’s footsteps.

In your own life, I urge you to consider such portion size strategies. Whether it be ordering a small instead of a large size, sharing a restaurant entrée, advising others to eat less, or getting active in a health and portion campaign, small steps in encouraging our food environment to support healthier food choices can ultimately result in reversing our obesity epidemic.

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Back to the Future: A Return to Smaller Beverage Sizes

Here is my latest blog post for Huffington Post.

New York City’s Board of Health recently approved Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to limit the sizes of sweetened beverages. The regulation restricts the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas and delis.

I published an opinion piece in support of the proposal for the New York Daily News.
My piece, “Smaller sodas, healthier lives” can be found herehttp://soc.li/GHG9r5G

As I write: “This campaign makes sense at a time when the debate about soaring medical costs has taken center stage in the presidential election. Obesity is estimated to cost $190 billion a year.… The mayor’s proposal does nothing more than swing the pendulum back in favor of more modest food portions.

Those portions have increased steadily over the years, so much so that we have grown accustomed to oversize portions and have come to expect them.

Portion sizes are now two to five times larger than they were in the 1950s.”

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Just how big have food portions become? The timeline below, which is based on my research in my book The Portion Teller Plan, highlights how our frame of reference has shifted.

Select Dates in the Supersizing of American Fountain Drinks

1954                        Burger King offers a 12-oz Small and 16-oz Large soda.

1955                        McDonald’s offers a 7-oz soda.

1961                        McDonald’s adds 12-oz soda.

1962                        McDonald’s adds 16-oz soda.

1973                        McDonald’s adds 21-oz soda.

1988                        McDonald’s introduces 32-oz Super-Size.

1989                        Wendy’s adds the Super Value Menu including Biggie

drinks.

1999                      McDonald’s introduces 42-oz Super-Size.
The 32-oz Super-Size is downgraded to Large.

2001                       Burger King introduces a 42-oz King soda.

2004                      McDonald’s phases out the 42-oz Super-Size.
The largest size is the 32-oz Large.

2006                      Wendy’s add the 42-oz Large size.

Wendy’s drops the term Biggie for its 32-oz soda, calling it Medium.

2007                       McDonald’s offers a promotion of the 42 oz Hugo (previously called Super Size).

2011                        KFC introduces the 64-oz Mega Jug.

2012                      According to company websites, the following sizes are now available:

McDonald’s: 12-oz Kids, 16-oz Small, 21-oz Medium, and 32-oz Large.

Burger King: 16-oz Value, 20-oz Small, 30-oz Medium, 40-oz Large.

KFC: 16-oz Small, 20-oz Medium, 30-oz Large, and 64-oz Mega Jug.

Wendy’s: 12-oz Kids, 16oz Value, 20-oz Small, 30-oz Medium, 40-oz Large.

As I wrote in the NY Daily News,  “Bloomberg is not banning the sale of soda. Nor is he telling consumers that they can’t drink soda. Rather, he is calling attention to how much is a reasonable amount to drink at a time. Sixteen ounces is certainly more than reasonable — a full pint of sugar water. Instead of viewing this as a ban, let’s see it as an attempt to reset the norm for how much soda truly constitutes an appropriate portion.

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It is now time to return to the more reasonable sizes of the past, when obesity rates were much lower. Given the health consequences and enormous cost of our obesity epidemic, restricting large sizes of unhealthy sugary beverages is an excellent place to begin.

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Public Hearing on Sugary Drink Ban in NYC

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post on the hearing for the ban on oversized drinks in New York City.

Here is the link.

It was a busy afternoon at the Gotham Center in Long Island City, the headquarters of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Today was the public hearing on Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to restrict the sizes of sugary beverages to no more than 16 fluid ounces in New York City food establishments. The Board of Health will vote on the proposal in September.

Advocates lined up at the public hearing to speak in favor of the ban on supersized beverages, while opponents complained that the ban was unfair and violated public freedom.

Channel 7 News featured a brief clip of my speech (below is my full speech) and that of several others. More than 60 people pre-registered to speak out while walk-ins were also permitted to sign up speak. It was standing room only.

Speaking in support of the ban was Dr. Walter Willett, a nutrition professor from the Harvard School of Public Health, who called soda in large amounts “metabolically toxic,” and my colleague, public health lawyer Michele Simon, founder of Eat Drink Politics, who succinctly said that “it is the soda industry … that has taken away the choice of reasonable portions.”

A spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association complained that they were being singled out and said the ban “unfairly targets restaurants and small business owners…” and a spokesperson for the NYC American Beverage Association said the ban is “distracting us from the real issues” as they made sure to mention that they are responsible for 8,000 jobs in NYC.

Here is my five-minute speech in its entirety (a bell goes off if you speak more than five minutes) in support of the proposal:

“Good afternoon. I am Dr. Lisa Young. I am a nutritionist [in private practice], author of The Portion Teller Plan, a user-friendly weight-loss book on portion control, and an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University.

I am in support of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to restrict the sale of sodas and other sugary drinks that are larger than 16 fluid ounces in food establishments such as restaurants, movie theaters, delis, and street carts. It would include the popular 20-ounce soda bottle from the corner deli and oversized fountain drinks available in fast-food establishments and movie theaters.

This campaign makes sense at a time when food portions have increased and so have rates of obesity. Obesity is currently a major public health concern in New York City and is caused by an imbalance of energy intake (calories in) and energy expenditure (calories out).

Sugary, sweetened beverages are a major contributor to the current obesity epidemic. The mayor’s Task Force on Obesity states that “Americans consume 200-300 more calories daily than 30 years ago, with the largest single increase due to sugary drinks.”

As a researcher tracking portion size trends, food portions have increased steadily over the years, and so have the waistlines of Americans. We have grown accustomed to oversized portions, and we have come to expect them. My research found that portion sizes are now two to five times larger than they were in the 1950s. When McDonald’s opened, for example, the only size soda available was 7 ounces. When Burger King first opened, the company offered a 12-ounce small and a 16-ounce large. Burger King’s small is now 20 ounces and its large is 42 ounces. I think it is time to return to those more reasonable sizes.

In a new paper co-authored with my NYU colleague Dr. Marion Nestle, and due to be published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, portion sizes in the first decade of the 21st century continued to increase despite public health initiatives encouraging the food industry to reduce portion sizes. It is now time for action.

Large portions may contribute to obesity in several ways. They contain more calories than small portions. For example, a small soda (which is 16 ounces) at the fast food chain KFC contains 180 calories, while the Mega Jug (which is 64 ounces) contains nearly 800 calories (and 50 teaspoons sugar). This cup holds a half gallon of soda; it is far too much soda for one person. Indeed, it contains more than one-third of the calories recommended for an entire day for certain segments of the U.S. population.

Large portions also encourage us to consume more and to underestimate how much we are really eating. Sugar-sweetened beverages, in particular, provide no nutritional value whatsoever. As a registered dietitian counseling clients on healthy eating, I advise eating a small portion of foods low in nutritional value.

Mayor Bloomberg is not banning the sale of soda. Nor is he telling consumers that they can’t drink soda. Rather, he is calling attention to how much should be considered a reasonable amount to drink at a time. And 16 ounces is certainly more than reasonable — that is a pint-size worth of sugar water. I do not see the proposal as a ban, but rather as an attempt to reset the norm for how much drink constitutes an appropriate portion. This is a much needed proposal in an era of oversized portions.

As an educator and clinician, I would absolutely continue to advocate for better education and public health campaigns. The NYC health department found that 15 percent of patrons improved their choices by looking at calorie counts on menu boards. Indeed, we need to take this a step further. And Mayor Bloomberg is taking action.

Given the health consequences and enormous cost of our country’s obesity epidemic, it is time to return to eating less. And restricting the large sizes of unhealthy sugar-sweetened beverages is an excellent place to begin. Thank you.”

It is my hope that by this time next year, it will be hard to find oversized cups on the streets of New York City.

Thoughts? Would love to hear them.

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Bigger coffee cups

How big can a coffee cup get? These days, very big! Reporting in The Journal of Queen’s University, Tim Hortons in Canada recently unveiled a new 710-ml (24 oz) Extra Large coffee cup. It is larger than a Starbucks 20 oz Venti and a McDonald’s Extra Large coffee. (See photo graphic by Justin Chin of The Journal.)

There seems to be a trend toward larger coffee cups. Last year, Starbucks USA increased its iced coffee by introducing a Trenta, 31- oz size. This may have been done to compete with McDonald’s 32-oz sweet drinks. Tim Hortons USA already offers Extra Large sizes for drinks.

So, what are we to make of these jumbo coffee drinks? While it may be cheaper to purchase a larger size, which is why we are so often enticed to buy them, there are many health implications from buying such sizes. First off, it is full of caffeine, with 240 mg. (A standard 8-oz size contains around 100 mg caffeine.) Secondly, while black coffee provides no calories, opt for the French Vanilla Cappuccino and you’ve just guzzled down 600 calories, more than 19 grams of saturated fat, and 74 grams of sugar. And the drink contains virtually very few vitamins and minerals. According to The Journal, that is the equivalent to eating “two tablespoons of bacon grease and 19 sugar cubes.”

“Small” anyone?! Or at Starbucks, that would be the “Tall.”

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Teens underestimate calories!

New research from Harvard has reported that teenagers underestimate the number of calories in fast-food meals. Often by hundreds of calories! The research presented at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society found major errors in estimating calories in fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts and Wendy’s.

Here are some of the findings as reported by Nanci Hellmich in today’s USA Today.

• 80% of teens underestimated the calories in their meals.

• 30% of teens underestimated the amount by at least 500 calories.

• Teens who ordered 1,000-calorie meals underestimated the amount by an average of 350 calories.

• Those who ordered 1,500-calorie meals were off by 700 calories.

Take-home message: It is no surprise that teens underestimated the calories in fast food meals as these foods are SO high in calories and their portions are huge.   Next time you—or your kids—visit a fast-food place, or any restaurant for that matter, assume that the meals have more calories than you would think.

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A few pointers:

  • Order a small size when possible. Good news: fast-food places give you choices.
  • Limit liquid calories including soda.
  • Get a single burger instead of a double or triple.
  • Choose grilled chicken instead of fried chicken.
  • Choose fast food only on occasion.
  • Teach your kids to cook and eat home more often.
  • Include more fresh fruits and veggies whenever possible
  • SHARE, SHARE and SHARE!
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Unhappy Meals

The Happy Meal–and other fatty and salty meals marketed to kids—may soon be an Unhappy Meal if a member of the City Council of New York gets his way, or these meals don’t shape up!  Mr. Leroy Comrie, Jr wants toys to be banned from Happy Meals and other fast-food meals marketed to kids that do not meet healthful criteria. Here is the article from the New York Times about it.

Mr. Comrie’s bill would restrict toys to meals that contain the following criteria:

  • Fewer than 500 calories
  • Less than 600 mg sodium
  • Less than 35% of calories (exceptions for nuts and nut butters)
  • Must contain ½ cup fruit or vegetable or one serving of whole grain.

This plan resembles a measure that was adopted in San Francisco last year, despite serious lobbying efforts by the fast-food industry. New York’s proposal is stricter than San Francisco’s plan which called for meals to have fewer than 600 calories and 640 mg sodium.

Great idea. It is time to sell more healthful meals to kids!  And, I know first hand that kids love meals that come with toys. When my niece was barely 5 years old, she wanted to go to McDonald’s just to get the Betty Spaghetti toy. Of course, if you eat fast-food on a regular basis, you will never look like Betty Spaghetti…Let’s hope the City Council approves this bill.

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