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PLoS One. 2020 Feb 10;15(2):e0228891. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0228891. eCollection 2020.

Calorie and nutrient trends in large U.S. chain restaurants, 2012-2018.

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Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, United States of America.
Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, United States of America.
Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, United States of America.



Large chain restaurants reduced calories in their newly-introduced menu items from 2012 to 2015. The objective of this study was to provide updated calorie trends through 2018 and examine trends in the macronutrient composition of menu items across this time period.


Data were obtained from the MenuStat project and include 66 of the 100 largest revenue generating U.S. chain restaurants (N = 28,238 items) that had data available in all years from 2012 to 2018. Generalized linear models were used to examine per-item calorie and nutrient changes (saturated fat, trans fat, unsaturated fat, sugar, non-sugar carbohydrates, protein, sodium) among (1) items on the menu in all years (common items) and (2) newly introduced items (2013-2018). Overall, there were no significant changes in calories or nutrients among common items from 2012 to 2018. Among all newly introduced items, calories (-120 kcals, -25%, p = 0.01; p-for-trend = 0.02), saturated fat (-3.4g, -41%, p<0.01, p-for-trend = 0.06), unsaturated fat (-4.5g, -37%, p = 0.02; p-for-trend = 0.04), non-sugar carbohydrates (-10.3g, -40%, p = 0.02, p-for-trend = 0.69), and protein (-4.3g, -25%, p = 0.04, p-for-trend = 0.02) declined.


Newly introduced menu items in large chain restaurants have continued to decline in calories through 2018, which may help to reduce calorie intake. Other changes in macronutrient content were sporadic and not clearly toward improved dietary quality.

Conflict of interest statement

Caroline Dunn owns stock over a value of $5,000 in Beyond Meat, Inc. The other authors have declared that no competing interests exist. This does not alter our adherence to PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.

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