Objective: To evaluate five popular fast-food chains' menus in relation to dietary guidance.
Design: Menus posted on chains' websites were coded using the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies and MyPyramid Equivalents Database to enable Healthy Eating Index-2005 (HEI-2005) scores to be assigned. Dollar or value and kids' menus and sets of items promoted as healthy or nutritious were also assessed.
Setting: Five popular fast-food chains in the USA.
Subjects: Not applicable.
Results: Full menus scored lower than 50 out of 100 possible points on the HEI-2005. Scores for Total Fruit, Whole Grains and Sodium were particularly dismal. Compared with full menus, scores on dollar or value menus were 3 points higher on average, whereas kids' menus scored 10 points higher on average. Three chains marketed subsets of items as healthy or nutritious; these scored 17 points higher on average compared with the full menus. No menu or subset of menu items received a score higher than 72 out of 100 points.
Conclusions: The poor quality of fast-food menus is a concern in light of increasing away-from-home eating, aggressive marketing to children and minorities, and the tendency for fast-food restaurants to be located in low-income and minority areas. The addition of fruits, vegetables and legumes; replacement of refined with whole grains; and reformulation of offerings high in sodium, solid fats and added sugars are potential strategies to improve fast-food offerings. The HEI may be a useful metric for ongoing monitoring of fast-food menus.