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Study: Fast Food Has Remained Consistently Unhealthy for Two Decades

Printed calorie count or no, researchers find little changes in calorie and sodium content.

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Despite mandated menu calorie counts and the supposedly more savvy American diner, meals at fast-food chains aren't getting any healthierResearchers at Tufts University collected nutritional information from three major, unnamed fast-food chains dating back to 1996, comparing the change (if any) in nutritional content. According to the findings, published in Preventing Chronic Disease, "average calories, sodium, and saturated fat stayed relatively constant, albeit at high levels." The only menu item that saw a major change was french fries, which were subject to many trans fat bans in the mid-2000s.

And as the Los Angeles Times points out, not only is fast-food not getting better, some of it is getting worse. Of the 18 menu items tested across the board (including popular orders like cheeseburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, and fries), seven contained more sodium in 2013 then they had back in 1996; only five items contained less sodium than their mid-'90s counterpart. The study also points out large differences between the chains, particularly in orders of small french fries. Although researchers declined the name the three chains involved, nutritional information provided directly by McDonald's and Burger King confirms: An order of small fries at McDonald's contains 230 calories and 130mg of sodium, while a small order at Burger King clocks in at 340 calories and 480mg of sodium.