July 04, 2012

Wanting to eat healthier, but little healthy foods sold at McDonalds

Most fast food restaurants do not share their sales data of healthy foods, but that did not stop Lyndall Wellard and colleagues to find out how many healthy items are actually sold at the biggest fast food chain in the world. They observed what people bought at 20 McDonalds restaurants in Australia. Of the 1449 meal purchases observed, only 1% could be considered healthy, 65% were unhealthy and 34% were take-away (so impossible to determine whether food is healthy or not).

Only 1% of all meals eaten in the restaurant! That is not much... Why would you sell healthy foods in a restaurant when hardly anyone is buying it? As a service to the 1% die-hard dieters who really do not want burgers and fries? Or to create a healthier image which may lead to higher overall sales?

According to a survey among Americans, 47% said they wanted restaurants to offer healthier items like salads. Even 23% said they tend to order those foods. Apparently many consumers like to have these items on the menu. Maybe as a license to indulge? Research of Wilcox and colleagues already showed that adding a salad or fruit to the menu makes you more likely to order fries. And to make it worse: consumers also tend to believe that adding a healthy item to a meal magically decreases the number of calories of the total meal.

In my previous blog post, I discussed the essay of Marion Nestle and David Stuckler on the influence of large food companies on public health. They are right, healthier foods are inherently less profitable. At least when eating out, most consumers seem to just want to indulge (without feeling too guilty).

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