Fast food restaurants have taken the brunt of the blame in recent years for the obesity epidemic in America. As a result, the restaurant industry is preparing to introduce new federal rules for restaurant chains of 20 or more locations that will require them to post information about calories on their menus. However, the results of a new study indicate that the big chains might be unfairly singled out and that it might be a good idea for independent and small-chain restaurants to be required to follow the same rules.
The study indicates that the small-chain and independent restaurants – which account for more than 50% of the restaurants in this country – will be exempt from the new federal rules even though the average meal at these restaurants contained more calories than the large-chain fast food restaurants according to senior and corresponding author Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D, and director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory (EML) at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University in Boston. “Meals from ALL restaurant types provided substantially more energy than is needed for weight maintenance.”
In fact, the study – which was published today in the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine) – found that the average meal at small-chain and independent restaurants contained TWO to THREE TIMES the estimated needs of an individual adult in just one meal – 66% of the typical daily caloric requirement. Indeed, the average meal at restaurants excluded from the new rules contained 1,437 calories compared to an average of just 1,359 calories at the larger national chain restaurants!
“Our findings suggest that the routine reporting of meal calorie content by ALL restaurants – not just large chains – would encourage individuals to make informed choices about their diet and would discourage restaurants from offering unhealthy portions,” says lead author Lorien Urban, Ph.D, postdoctoral scholar in the Energy Metabolism Laboratory.
The public has been generally brainwashed to believe that only the large fast food chains are contributing to our obesity, but it might be worthwhile to take another look at all restaurants, regardless of the number of their locations, and level the playing field. The consumption of just 100 extra calories a day – the approximate difference between the small-chain/independent restaurants and the large fast-food chains -can lead to an increase of 6-15 pounds a year. It isn’t just fast food that is causing the problem.