On any given day, 36.6 percent of American adults eat fast food, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fast-food restaurants would like you to think their meals are getting healthier. In fact, over the past 30 years, portion sizes have grown, as have calories, and the food has become less healthy, according to a new study of 10 of the most popular U.S. fast-food joints.

Image: Pixabay/Davidz

Researchers examined menu offerings in 1986, 1991 and 2016. Here’s the change they found across three decades:

Calories in all three categories—entrees, sides & desserts—increased significantly, with the largest increases in desserts (62 calories per decade), followed by entrees (30 calories per decade). The change was due mostly to larger portions. Sodium also increased significantly in all three categories.

“Despite the vast number of choices offered at fast-food restaurants, some of which are healthier than others, the calories, portion sizes, and sodium content overall have worsened (increased) over time and remain high,” said lead researcher Megan McCrory, of Boston University.

It seems almost overkill to rehash the badness of fast food, but here goes:

The study, announced today, is detailed in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Data for 1986 and 1991 was gleaned from the Fast Food Guide, and 2016 data came from online sources, the researchers said.

A typical entree plus side dish at one of these restaurants averages 767 calories, or about 40 percent of the 2,000 calories a day recommended for a moderately active average woman (it’s roughly 2,500 for men).

“Given the popularity of fast food, our study highlights one of the changes in our food environment that is likely part of the reason for the increase in obesity and related chronic conditions over the past several decades, which are now among the main causes of death in the US,” McCrory said in a statement.

Independent health and science journalist, former editor-in-chief of LiveScience, writing about how we age and how to optimize your mind and body through time.

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