Study finds calories dropping in some fast food menu items

Ahead of new rules requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts for their menu items, some of the restaurants are voluntarily introducing lower calorie selections.

The new items tend to be salads rather than the main attractions such as burgers and pizza, but they contain an average of 60 fewer calories or a reduction of 12 percent, researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found.

The researchers looked at new menu items in 2012 and 2013, ahead of new rules to offer the public nutritional information required by the Affordable Care Act. And they said the results, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, could be the beginning of a trend in calorie reduction at fast food restaurants that aids the obesity epidemic.

“If the average number of calories consumed at each visit was reduced by approximately 60 calories -- the average decline we observed in newly introduced menus in our study -- the impact on obesity could be significant,” Sara N. Bleich, associate professor in the Hopkins' Department of Health Policy and Management and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

About a third of young children, 41 percent of adolescents and 36 percent of adults eat at fast food restaurants on an average day, consuming some 191 calories, 404 calories and 315 calories respectively.

Bleich said offering lower calorie options may help consumers take in fewer calories without significantly changing their behavior because they are still eating at these chain restaurants.

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