Feb. 27 (UPI) -- As time has passed, the number of fast food restaurants has expanded, along with the average size of waistlines throughout the United States. One reason for that expansion is that fast food restaurants offer more things now than ever, a new study says.
Since 1986, the number of desserts, and sides a customer can buy has increased by 226 percent, according to findings published Wednesday in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"Our study offers some insights on how fast food may be helping to fuel the continuing problem of obesity and related chronic conditions in the United States. 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," Megan A. McCrory, an investigator at Boston University and study author, said in a news release.
Researchers looked at offerings at the 10 most popular fast food restaurants between 1986 and 2016. Calorie content increased for dessert by 62 grams per decade and for entrees by 30 calories per decade.
Today, roughly 37 percent of adults eat fast food on a given day, that includes 45 percent of people between ages 20 and 39.
The average fast food meal with a side packs about 767 calories, which rings up nearly 40 percent of a person's daily recommended intake. Adding a soda or other beverage could push that number up to 50 percent.
And those extra calories have begun to show.
From 1999 to 2016, the average man's weight has gone up from 189 to 198 pounds and the average woman's weight has climbed 164 to 171 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"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.
There is, however, one bright spot in the study. Since 1970, the level of calcium and iron has increased significantly in desserts.
"We need to find better ways to help people consume fewer calories and sodium at fast-food restaurants," McCrory said. "The requirement that chain restaurants display calories on their menus is a start. We would like to see more changes, such as restaurants offering smaller portions at proportional prices."