Healthy eating promoting innovations in restaurants: A look at the past 20 years (New Publication!)

We are thrilled to share our latest publication, Facilitating Healthier Eating at Restaurants: A Multidisciplinary Scoping Review Comparing Strategies, Barriers, Motivators, and Outcomes by Restaurant Type and Initiator (available here). The research was featured alongside other great articles at the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health Special Issue on Food Systems, Food Environment, Diet and Nutrition Related Diseases.

Work for this publication began back in February 2020, right before the onset of COVID-19. Our project director, Dr. Melissa Fuster, was motivated by the need to understand restaurant engagement in strategies and innovations that could potentially result in healthier eating. Past research in public health had mostly neglected the business perspective and the actions restaurants have already been taking out of their own volition (as opposed as changes made through government mandates or as part of a health-promoting program). We carried out expansive searches spanning the past 20 years (2000-February 2020), resulting in close to 20,000 sources, bringing together research articles, reports, and news media sources. Our final analysis was based in 171 records, describing restaurant- and public health investigator-led changes in both independently owned and corporate restaurants in the United States.

Key findings include:

  • Restaurants have been increasingly active in making changes to food offerings and creating environments that are more conducive to healthier choices.
  • Restaurants recognize the demand for healthier environments within their establishments and have been increasing offerings that are lower in calories, fats, and sugar, as well as increasing whole grains and vegetable-forward dishes.
  • Corporate restaurants seem to be more active in making these changes, potentially due to the greater level of resources.
  • Most of the changes were being done by corporate restaurants, as opposed to independently-owned restaurants. Well-known brands, like McDonald’s and Wendy’s, have been making changes, such as the provision of nutrition information and the inclusion of plant-based substitutes.
  • While concerns about revenue was commonly reported as a drawback or barrier to creating these changes, when we examined the results from the changes (as reported) these were mostly revenue positive. These includes increased in sales, customer acceptance, and increased visibility.
  • While the results showcased active engagement in the restaurant sector, restaurants serving Latin foods were not well represented in the sources examined, suggesting these establishments are failing to address the growing market for healthier offerings in restaurants (and the associated potential profit!).

This article provided a solid base for the research we have been doing. Since October 2020, we have been conducting discussions with restaurant owners and staff about their experience in the industry, COVID-19, and their opinion about the healthy eating promoting strategies uncovered through this review. The exercise has been slow but fruitful, with many of the experiences and perceptions resonating and expanding what we found in the review study.

Stay tuned for more updates and see the full article here!

Thanks for visiting!

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