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The problems associated with fast food are well known. But this hasn’t stopped researchers from continuing to plumb the depths in several new studies.

A new study released in December by researchers at Michigan State and Baylor College of Medicine determined that only 3 percent of kids’ meals served at fast-food restaurants actually met federal dietary guidelines.

In a study of fast food meals available in Houston, 97% of available options exceeded federal guidelines in terms of fat and calories. The researchers also noted that 25% of children aged 4 to 8 years consume fast food on a typical day.

Another study has established a connection between a fast food diet and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This study, from Sweden’s KI Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, determined that mice that were fed a diet rich in fat, sugar and cholesterol for nine months developed a preliminary stage of the morbid irregularities that form in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

This steady drumbeat of news has focused attention on government efforts to increase our awareness of what we’re actually eating when we saunter up to the counter and order a double cheeseburger with fries.

New York City is now requiring restaurants with 15 or more outlets to post the calorie content of food next to the price i.e., on menu boards. According to the New York Times, “The resulting sticker shock has brought parts of a great city to its knees, often to do push-ups.”

Last fall, California became the first state to require calorie counts, although that law is less restrictive than New York’s. In all, nearly three dozen states, cities and counties have passed or introduced laws that would require calorie posting in some form. And two proposals moving through Congress would make calorie postings uniform nationwide. One, the Labeling Education and Nutrition Act, is backed by the restaurant industry and would give restaurants and grocery stores selling prepared foods a choice of labeling formats, including posters near the cash register or disclosures on the back of the menu. It would pre-empt tougher laws, like New York City’s. A second proposal, the Menu Education and Labeling Act, is supported by public health advocates and more closely mirrors New York City’s law. It would not pre-empt more stringent local laws.

Meanwhile, fast food companies are getting the message. Yum Brands, which owns KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and other fast-food restaurants, will start voluntarily posting calorie counts for individual servings in its restaurants nationwide later this year, said Jonathan Blum, a company spokesman.

One study advises us to keep this in context. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals reveals that while fast food and regular restaurant (table service) meals are larger and have more calories than meals prepared at home, the typical fast food meal is actually smaller and has fewer calories than the average meal from a table service restaurant.

Will calorie and fat gram counts soon be required on every menu? Stay tuned.

One final note on the beverage front. Over the past few years, many of us have migrated from soda to seemingly healthier beverage options, such as juice, energy drinks, and fancy waters like Coca-Cola’s VitaminWater.

Most readers of this newsletter know that juices typically have as much if not more sugar per serving than non-diet sodas. But what you may not know is that VitaminWater has a whopping 33 grams of sugar per bottle.

This fact has caught the attention of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which is suing Coke for deceptive and unsubstantiated claims on VitaminWater. The suit claims that Coke markets VitaminWater as a healthful alternative to soda by labeling its several flavors with such health buzz words as “defense,” “rescue,” “energy,” and “endurance.”

“Coke fears, probably correctly, that they’ll sell less soda as Americans become increasingly concerned with obesity, diabetes, and other conditions linked to diets too high in sugar,” said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. “VitaminWater is Coke’s attempt to dress up soda in a physician’s white coat. Underneath, it’s still sugar water, albeit sugar water that costs about ten bucks a gallon.”