al., 1999a). Restaurant industry sales for commercial and noncommercial services were projected to exceed $426 billion in 2003 (National Restaurant Association, 2003) and are forecasted to reach $440 billion in 2004 (National Restaurant Association, 2004). Moreover, consumer spending at restaurants is projected to continue growing over the next decade (Stewart et al., 2004). Full-service and fast food restaurants alike have been enjoying this boom—in 2003, full-service restaurant sales reached $153.2 billion and fast food restaurant sales reached nearly $121 billion (National Restaurant Association, 2003)—and it appears likely to continue. Assuming modest growth in household income and demographic changes, consumer per-capita spending between 2000 and 2020 is expected to rise by 18 percent at full-service restaurants and by 6 percent at fast food outlets (Stewart et al., 2004).

Given the growing public concern about the rise in obesity, particularly childhood obesity, full service and fast food restaurants throughout the country have begun offering healthier food options. At present, however, most restaurants do not provide consumers with the calorie and selected nutrient content either of offered meals or individual food and beverage items4; this information would be useful for making more prudent menu decisions. While the culinary qualities of fast food meals tend to differ from those of full-service restaurants (Lin et al., 1999a), both of them are typically energy dense and served in large portions.

Fast food consumption is associated with a diet that is high in total energy and energy density but low in micronutrient density. For example, an analysis of the CSFII 1994-1996 data for adult men and women revealed that a typical fast food meal provided more than one-third of their daily energy, total fat, and saturated fat intake; and that energy density increased while micronutrient density concurrently decreased with frequency of fast food consumption (Bowman and Vinyard, 2004).

Published data are limited that compare the nutrient content of full-service restaurant meals for children. However, one review of the entrees offered to children at 20 table-service restaurants found fried chicken on every one of the children’s menus, a hamburger or cheeseburger on 85 percent of the menus, and french fries on all but one of the menus (Hurley and Liebman, 2004). At nearly one-half of the restaurant chains, french fries were the only side dish on the children’s menus, and while children could generally choose a beverage from among soft drinks, juice, or milk,


Under the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, food products exempted from calorie and nutrient labeling include foods served for immediate consumption, ready-to-eat food not for immediate consumption (i.e., take-out foods), and foods produced by small businesses with annual sales below $500,000 (IOM, 2004).

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