How quick-service restaurants can help America eat better

Hoang NguyenData Journalist
June 22, 2017, 5:43 PM GMT+0

Nearly one in two Americans (45%) find it hard to make healthy eating choices

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reveals that Americans consume more than one-third of their calories away from home. Without proper nutritional labeling in restaurants, it’s often difficult to know what’s being consumed. Indeed, a new poll from YouGov shows that US adults are divided over whether it's easy or hard to make healthy eating decisions.

Recently, quick-service restaurants have done well to improve their public image. 40% of the general population believes that quick-service restaurants have become healthier over the last five years, while only 16% believe the opposite. Americans aged 55+, who watched some of these chains flip their first burger, are more likely to think the industry has become healthier (46%) than younger people, who are less convinced (37%).

YouGov also asked people to pick the healthiest item from a list of menu options generally found at quick-service restaurants, and, to no one’s surprise, the most popular choice was salad (52%).

That number doesn’t apply to all generations, though. Only 41% of Millennials think salads served at quick-service chains are the healthiest option, while a majority of those aged 55 and over (61%) say the same. Given the fact that the younger generation now makes up over a quarter of the US population, and that nearly half of America finds it hard to make healthy eating choices, improving the perception of salads and other menu items could draw more industry revenue.

At the same time, 67% of US consumers believe that diet and exercise are equally important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Yet again, however, generational differences offer a nuanced perspective. While 74% of Americans aged 55 and over believe a balance of diet and exercise is crucial to one's health, only 58% of Millennials agree. Millennials, on the other hand, are 12 percentage points more likely than those aged 55 and over to report that, when it comes to health, diet is more important than exercise.

Additional data shows that 57% of US adults believe that seeing calorie and nutritional information on a menu would impact their purchase decision. Many Americans also say that quick-service restaurants should show certain types of nutritional information on their menus — a practice most chains have been doing. Consumers, especially older consumers, want to know the fat, cholesterol, and sodium/sugar content in the food they eat when they eat out.

Given that 45% of Americans find it hard to make healthy eating decisions, there’s an opportunity for the quick-service restaurant industry to help consumers make better choices, while offering the same convenience that it has for over 70 years.

Full survey results available here