The National Restaurant Association's chief nutritionist has questioned the findings of a study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association that examined the relationship between declared versus tested caloric content of restaurant food.
Joy Dubost, the NRA's director of nutrition and healthy living, refuted the study in a letter to the editor published in JAMA (Oct., 19, 2011, Vol. 306, No. 15, pp. 1655-1656), saying the findings were inaccurate because the data collected came from randomly selected food items from quick- and full-service restaurants in three states. She said that overall, the stated caloric contents were not significantly different from the measured caloric contents, however, a large variability ‑ greater than 100 calories ‑ was found in 19 percent of the food items analyzed.
Dubost, a registered dietitian with a PhD in food science, characterized the study as flawed, saying poor methodology was used.
"The authors did not follow standard sampling procedures, which may have resulted in the variability found in the 19 percent of food items analyzed," Dubost said. "Analyzing only a few samples weakened the results, which would have been stronger if they would have followed standard sampling procedures. The methods used for sampling and testing restaurant foods are particularly important given the inherent variability with hand-prepared foods."
In her response, Dubost wrote that, "In general, this study shows the variance in caloric information to be small in most cases. With the new menu-labeling law, we know that many restaurant chains are looking at tighter kitchen quality-control standards, from the weight of the meals to the package sizes used for takeout."
Dubost further indicated that NRA research has shown that seven in 10 consumers are trying to eat healthier than they did two years ago, and that the association has led the way in ensuring useful nutritional information, such as caloric content, be listed on restaurant menus.