Healthy option? Not today, thank you

The healthy option is just not an option for customers at the counters of fast food outlets, a Griffith University research project has discovered.

Less than three per cent of people buying lunch avail of the healthy alternatives now on menus at restaurants like McDonald’s and Subway.

Researchers from Griffith University’s School of Public Health surveyed 1025 Subway and McDonald’s customers on their lunchtime choices over a two month period, and found only 2.5 per cent of customers who ordered a main meal bought a nutritionally-promoted item.

McDonald’s Tick Approved choices and Subway’s ‘Six grams of fat or less’ option had minimal take-up.

Researcher Louise Atkinson will present her findings to nutrition experts at the Dietitians Association of Australia’s National Conference in Adelaide this week.

“In response to rising obesity rates, many of the nation’s fast food chains have undergone a health kick in the past five years,” Ms Atkinson, an accredited practising dietitian, said.

“To their credit, they’ve created menu items that offer consumers an alternative choice.

“But our research shows that Australians just aren’t choosing these meals.”

The research showed that people who bought the healthier choices were predominantly female, older than the average customer, and more likely to be working or training in a health-related profession.

Ms Atkinson said those who chose the nutritionally-promoted foods consumed around 1500 fewer kilojoules and had up to an extra serve of vegetables, compared with those who chose the regular menu items.

One in three Australians eat food prepared outside the home each day.

“If people were choosing a healthier wrap or salad meal over a hamburger and fries, then it’s a positive move – but they’re not.

“And the problem with traditional takeaways is that they are typically laden with more kilojoules and contain less vegetables,” Ms Atkinson said.

Dr Michelle Palmer from Griffith University’s School of Public Health set up the revealing research project, which will culminate with full publication of its findings by Public Health Nutrition Journal.

“I was not surprised to find the purchase rates for healthy options were low,” she said.

“It’s not why people go into fast food restaurants. They are not specifically looking for healthy nutritional options.”

Claire Hewat, CEO of the Dieticians Association of Australia, called on fast food outlets to continue working to reformulate their entire menus, making changes to the salt and fat content of their regular menu items and adding more vegetables, rather than just offering healthier menu options.