According to a new study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
Food prepared away from home is typically higher in calories and lower in nutrition than food prepared at home, but it now makes up more than one-third of all calories purchased in the United States. Consumers tend to view full-service restaurants as providing healthier, higher quality food than fast-food restaurants, but some studies have found much higher calorie, fat, and sodium levels in food at full-service restaurants. Researchers from Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania studied more than 2,600 menu items served at full-service restaurant chains operating in Philadelphia and concluded that foods served at full-service restaurant chains are high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium, and that standard definitions are needed for ''healthy choice'' tags and for entrees targeted to vulnerable age groups.
Nutrition information provided at full-service restaurants has lagged behind fast-food restaurants; however, a 2010 menu labeling ordinance in Philadelphia provided an opportunity for an in-depth study of the calorie and nutrition content of menu items served at full-service restaurants. The study included 21 full-service restaurant chains which offered single-serving entrees and provided calories and sodium information for all menu items on either their websites or printed menus.
The study focused on entrees, appetizers, and side dishes, but also provided information on other less consistently labeled menu categories. "The need to educate customers about the nutritional content of restaurant foods is acute because consumers increasingly eat away from home, restaurants serve large portions of energy-dense and high-sodium foods, and obesity and the prevalence of other diet-related diseases are high," according to lead researcher Amy Auchincloss, PhD, MPH, of the Drexel University School of Public Health.