On average, Americans spend about 50% of their food dollars away from home and it is estimated that more than one third of adults and children eat at a fast food restaurant every day. In a recent article published by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, researchers aimed to examine beverage trends between the years of 2012 and 2017. Findings from the study indicated that sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) made up the largest percentage of drink options from a typical fast food menu. When examining children’s menus, 81% of beverage options were SSB. When comparing all beverage options from 2012 to 2017, calories and added sugars remained constant. When comparing nutrient content of only newly introduced beverages between these years, calories and added sugars were significantly higher in 2017 compared to 2012. Total number of new beverage offerings increased by 155% with most of that change (82%) driven by SSB. Future research should continue to examine trends in U.S. restaurant chains and specific consumer purchasing and consumption trends.

Study strengths: Recent literature and media coverage indicate that menu options at fast food restaurants have changed over time with the posting of nutritional facts and voluntarily decreasing calories on newly introduced menu items; prior research has not examined trends in beverages for calorie and added sugars over time.

Study limitations: Only beverages with complete nutrition facts were selected for analyses; this limited the study to 63 large restaurant chains. Many restaurants without complete nutrition facts were excluded. This study identified children’s beverage options, but was not able to compare nutrient value of beverages due to a small sample size. The health impact of these restaurant menu offerings is also not known and future research should examine consumption.

What this means for your practice: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that Americans over the age of two consume <10% of their calories from added sugars. However, literature suggests that children consume about 35% of their calories as empty calories, primarily from SSB. When educating parents of young children about reducing SSB consumption , consider also discussing how to choose healthy drinks when eating away from home. For additional information for parents about healthy drinks, you can visit www.rethinkyourdrinknevada.com.

Original article: Frelier, J. M., Moran, A. J., Vercammen, K. A., Jarlenski, M. P., & Bleich, S. N. (2019). Trends in Calories and Nutrients of Beverages in US Chain Restaurants, 2012–2017. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 57(2), 231-240.

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