The 10 Most Unhealthy Fast-Food Items on America's Menu

Triple WhopperFrom California to the New York Island, from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters, this land is filled with fatties, lard butts and people large enough to have their own gravitational fields. Yes, America is the land of the "large and in charge," and one of the main reasons for it is our love of fast food.

Though it's tempting to put all the blame for America's obesity crisis on the fast-food industry -- and experts say it is at least partly at fault -- it's important to view it in context. The industry came of age during the 1950s as suburban communities saw their populations skyrocket, and social mores also began changing as women began to increasingly work outside the home. It was at that point that some of the savviest entrepreneurs in American corporate history sprang into action.

McDonald's Corp. (MCD) got in on the trend in 1955 when businessman Ray Kroc wondered how the McDonald Brothers sold so many burgers at their Southern California burger joint. He opened his first McDonald's Drive-In in Des Plaines, Ill. Today, there are more than 32,000 restaurants under the Golden Arches.

Col. Harlan Sanders began franchising Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1952. Five years later, Sanders began selling chicken in buckets and today there are more than 15,000 KFC outlets. James McLamore and David Edgerton founded Burger King in 1954, when as the company's website notes "flame-broiled beef [began] fulfilling its destiny." There are more than 12,500 Burger Kings today. Glen W. Bell Jr. opened the first Taco Bell (YUM) in 1962 with an investment of $4,000 and eventually sold the chain to Pepsico in 1978. At that time, there were 868 Taco Bells. Today, there are nearly 6,000. At the tender age of 17, Fred DeLuca co-founded Subway Restaurants in 1965. They have 32,800 locations today.

Many of the same trends that helped create the modern fast-food industry are still helping fuel its growth. Many children, especially racial minorities, live in single-parent households, including a whopping 65% of black children and 37% of Hispanic children as of 2007, according to Kids Count. Mothers are working outside the home at much higher rates than in decades past. It is projected that women will account for 46.9% of the labor force in 2018, up from 46.8% in 2018. Add to this mix the high unemployment rates caused by an uncertain economy, and the allure of fast, cheap food becomes hard to resist.

And therein lies the problem.

Obesity is a public health crisis. Obesity rates have tripled among children since 1980. In 2009, only Colorado and the District of Columbia had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People who are obese are vulnerable to everything from diabetes to heart disease resulting in some $147 billion in direct medical costs annually.

The degree to which fast food is at fault for the poor state of the health of many Americans "is impossible to quantify, but is definitely a factor," says Christina Munsell, a registered dietitian and research assistant at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, in an interview. The increase in obesity "definitely would correlate with eating quicker meals that are easier to obtain."

In order to create the rankings, 24/7 Wall St. examined the menus of the top 10 restaurant brands in the quick service category by sales as determined by QSR, an industry publication, looking for the most unhealthy options in the fast-food universe:items that were the highest in calories, carbohydrates, sodium and saturated fat. We then ranked them against the nutritional guidelines of the United States Department of Agriculture.

A couple of important caveats to consider. Not everything sold at fast food restaurants is unhealthy. The industry aggressively promotes healthier choice on their menus. Subway, for one, makes a special point of doing this, though its foot-long subs are not healthy choices. Moreover, experts point out that many items sold at sit-down restaurants are actually much more unhealthy than many fast food items. Fast food, though, has gained ground during the economic slowdown while casual and fine dining chains have suffered. McDonald's alone earned $24.58 billion in revenue in 2010. Yum! Brands, parent of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, made $11.42 billion.

Methodology: We derived the rankings by taking the average nutritional ratings of menu items compared with the USDA recommendations. Carbohydrates, saturated fat, and sodium were given the most weight. Calories and protein were also considered.


Wendy's10. Wendy's Baconator Double

> Calories (pct. daily diet): 930 (36%)
> Saturated Fat:
25g
> Carbohydrate (pct. daily diet):
41 (13%)
> Sodium (pct. daily diet):
1840mg (80%)

Whose says you can never have too much bacon? Anyone with sense, that's who. The Rudd Center's Munsell noted with amusement how fast food chains "combine every type of meat on one sandwich." The Baconator was relentlessly hyped for a while. A Wendy's (WEN) spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Burger King9. Burger King Triple Whopper with Cheese

> Calories (pct. daily diet): 1180 (45%)
> Saturated Fat:
30g
> Carbohydrate (pct. daily diet):
52 (16%)
> Sodium (pct. daily diet):
1330mg (58%)

The Triple Whopper makes a mere Quarter Pounder with Cheese seem like health food. At 1,140 calories, it packs more than twice the punch of the McDonald's burger, which has 535 calories. In a statement to 24/7 Wall St., the company referred to the Triple Whopper as an "indulgent option for our guests." Burger King says it encourages customers to eat healthy choices that provide 650 calories or less -- approximately one-third of a 2,000-calorie daily diet.

Subway8. Subway Footlong Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki

> Calories (pct. daily diet): 750 (28%)
> Saturated Fat:
2.5g
> Carbohydrate (pct. daily diet):
117 (41%)
> Sodium (pct. daily diet):
1810 mg (79%)
Subway, unhealthy? In some cases, the answer is "yes." While this sandwich is low in calories and fat, it is high in salt. The portions of Subway's foot-long sandwiches are too large, Munsell notes. Subway did not respond to a request for comment.

Wendy's7. Wendy's Triple

> Calories (pct. daily diet): 1030 (40%)
> Saturated Fat:
28g
> Carbohydrate (pct. daily diet):
43 (18%)
> Sodium (pct. daily diet):
1800mg (78%)

Anyone eating this monstrosity might not realize that the USDA suggests one portion of meat should be roughly the size of deck of cards. This Wendy's monster burger weighs in at a whopping 423 grams. Wendy's has struggled for years against larger rivals. It unloaded its underperforming Arby's chain earlier this week to private-equity group Roark Capital Group. Wendy's did not respond to a request for comment.

Taco Bell6. Taco Bell XXL Grilled Stuft Burrito Beef
> Calories (pct. daily diet): 880 (34%)
> Saturated Fat:
3g
> Carbohydrate (pct. daily diet):
94 (26%)
> Sodium (pct. daily diet):
2130mg (93%)
Taco Bell has mastered the art of blending meats and cheese in ever more creative caloric combinations. The XXL Grilled Stuft Burrito Beef is a monument to gluttony. Taco Bell calls it its "biggest burrito yet." It has "a blend of three cheeses – cheddar, pepper jack and mozzarella – flavorful seasoned rice, hearty beans, reduced-fat sour cream, chunky guacamole, avocado ranch and fiesta salsa, wrapped up in a warm flour tortilla." Taco Bell's sales have been hurt recently by questions surrounding the quality of its beef.

McDonald's5. McDonald's Angus Chipotle BBQ Bacon

> Calories (pct. daily diet): 800 (31%)
> Saturated Fat:
18g
> Carbohydrate (pct. daily diet):
66 (18%)
> Sodium (pct. daily diet):
2020mg (88%)
The Angus Chipotle is big and has bacon, two red flags for any dieter. "It's problematic," says Munsell, adding that the Golden Arches have borne the brunt of negative publicity about fast food. That's unfair. "We did find that McDonald's did have more healthy options" than other chains, she notes. Indeed, it ended its Super Size promotion a few years ago, no doubt spurred by the publicity surrounding Morgan Spurlock's Oscar-nominated documentary Super Size Me.

Sonic4. Sonic SuperSONIC Bacon Double Cheeseburger with Mayo
> Calories (pct. daily diet): 1370 (53%)
> Saturated Fat:
36g
> Carbohydrate (pct. daily diet):
55 (17%)
> Sodium (pct. daily diet):
1610mg (70%)
The name alone should make a diner want to grab a fistful of Lipitor. Those brave enough to chow down on this 1,370 calorie colossus probably shouldn't eat much for the rest of the day. Once a regional operator in the South and Midwest, Sonic (SONC) now operates over 3,500 locations.

KFC3. KFC Chicken Pot Pie

> Calories (pct. daily diet): 790 (30%)
> Saturated Fat:
37g
> Carbohydrate (pct. daily diet):
66 (20%)
> Sodium (pct. daily diet):
1970mg (86%)

Salty and high in calories, there is little positive that can be said about the KFC Chicken Pot Pie. But a Yum! Brands spokesman had this to say: "It's all about providing our consumers with choices, and each of our brands has introduced products that are lower in calories and fat, such as KFC's Kentucky Grilled Chicken, Pizza Hut's Thin 'N Crispy Pizzas and salads and Taco Bell's Drive Thru Diet Menu with 7 items less than 9 grams of fat."

In other words, diners have a choice about whether or not they eat something with almost a full day's allotment of sodium in one item.

BMT2. Subway 12-inch Italian B.M.T
> Calories (pct. daily diet): 900 (35%)
> Saturated Fat:
16g
> Carbohydrate (pct. daily diet):
94 (27%)
> Sodium (pct. daily diet):
3,000 mg (130%)
It's easy to see why Subway does not list this sandwich under the "low-fat footlongs" on its web site. It has a whopping 3,000 mg of salt, 130% of the recommended allotment in a daily diet. "The problem with Subway is the portion size," Munsell says, adding that the problem with this sandwich is the salty luncheon meats. However, Subway is getting the message about salt. As an April USA Today article noted, "Beginning today, sodium content in Subway's 'Fresh Fit' sandwich line in the U.S. will be cut 28% vs. 2009, when Subway first began to cut salt. And sodium in its overall sandwich line will be cut by 15%, compared with the same period."

Pizza Hut1. Pizza Hut Triple Meat Italiano (9-inch personal pizza)
> Calories (pct. daily diet): 1,280 (49%)
> Saturated Fat:
23g
> Carbohydrate (pct. daily diet):
123 (38%)
> Sodium (pct. daily diet):
3,070mg (133%)
Pizza -- plain, with cheese and sauce -- is not particularly unhealthy. This gastronomical overkill featuring "all-natural pepperoni, all-natural Italian sausage, and baked ham" is terrible for you. Pizza Hut offers plenty of healthier choices.

Jonathan Berr, Michael B. Sauter

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to reflect corrections to nutritional information for some menu items.

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Will

2 liter bottle of soda price .89 to 1.79 fruit juice 2.19 to 4.99
in todays time which would you pick

veggie burger patties 6.89 for 4 patties 2 lbs of ground beef $3.89 which is 8 to 12 patties

avg serving of fish is always more expensive then its pork or beef counterparts

if they made it cheaper for you to eat right more people would do it but the unhealty stuff is cheaper then eating healthy

May 13 2012 at 4:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
LESLIE

THANK YOU FOR ALL THIS INFORMATION, I AM SURE NOT WANT TO EAT, AND TO ENJOY OTHER FOODS. ONE THING FOR SURE, I LOVE TO EAT GOOD FOOD. HAVING SUGAR, I HAVE TO BE CAREFUL WHAT TO EAT.
THANK YOU, AND PLEASE SEND MORE INFORMATION ABOUT OTHER PLACES THAT SERVE FOOD. LESLIE

June 21 2011 at 1:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
somerglesias

the problem is that fast food is too cheap compared to actual FOOD. its fine to eat fast food once in a while, but when u go every day or even more than once a week, there is a problem. anyone who's healthy actually barfs fast food out coz its POISON!!! plus most people that go to fast foods regularly don't exercise enough either, which doesnt help the situation. people need to get informed and educated about the difference between food and poison, and start eating smart!!!

June 19 2011 at 11:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
R.C. Liley

I don't condone any fast food, but the problem is the people who keep going back over and over again. On top of the non-nutritional food from these places, most of the frequent consumers are sedentary and lack proper exercise...hence the reason they keep buying prepared food and not making anything for themselves. Just arm yourselves with knowledge on what's good for your body, you'll feel and look better. Trust me, I changed and feel a lot better!!

June 17 2011 at 10:42 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Mike

ALL RIGHT, EVERYONE THAT CARES, STAND UP! SO WHAT, IF IT TASTES GOOD, IT HAS TO BE GOOD. WHY ARE THESE PEOPLE SO DEAD SET TO RID US OF ALL OUR FUN FOOD. IT ISN'T LIKE WE EAT A WHOPPER EVERY DAY, BUT IF YOU DID, SHAME ON YOU....THAT IS NO REASON TO DENY ONE ONCE IN A WHILE TO THE REST OF US. IF THE NUTRITIONISTS WERE IN CHARGE (AND THEY WOULD LIKE TO BE) MCDONALDS WOULD BECOME MC TOFU....SOUNDS SCRUMPTIOUS! PLEASE GOVERNMENT, LEAVE OUR FOOD CHOICES ALONE, WE ALL KNOW WHAT IS GOOD FOR US, BUT FUN FOOD IS JUST THAT....FUN! AMERICA IS ALL ABOUT FREEDOM OF CHOICE.....LET'S KEEP IT THAT WAY.

June 17 2011 at 2:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
greenpeashuffle

Go enjoy your alphalfa sprouts and tofu!!! Don't need no food police here!!! I'll stick with these ten items; and you can enjoy the extra ten minutes a vegetarian diet adds to your life!

June 17 2011 at 1:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Don

Truthfully I'm more shocked at the poor literature and poor spelling then I am about the food. You can just NOT eat any of this and that would solve the fat problem but what can we do about the way people communicate these days? Just read and giggle I suppose. Tiz amusing.

June 17 2011 at 11:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
idkwutshudido

THESES CRIDICTS ARE NUTS!!! WE ARE AMERICANS NOT AMERICANTS!!!! WE LOVE FAST FOOD WHY RUIN IT??? WHY BECUACE DUMB SLOW BIBBLE THUMPING TIGHT WADS WHO HAVE NO LIFE N FEEL THE NEED TO BITCH ABOUT EVERY TINY LITTLE THINGS IN LIFE!! IF YOU DONT LIKE WHATS BEING SERVED TO YOU THEN DONT GO THERE N STOP FLAPING UR GUMS ABOUT IT!! GROW UP AMERICA!! AND PEOPLE WHO HAVE WEIGHT PROBLEMS WHO DONT HAVEN A COMMON SENSE TO NOT EAT THERE OR INSTEAD KEEP SHOVELING IT DOWN LIKE ITS GOING OUT OF STYLE!! PEOPLE LIKE THAT DEZERVE ON WHATS COMEN TO THEM!! N THE WORST PART OF IT IS THESES DUMBASS'S TURN AROUND SEW THE COMPONYS LIKES IT'S THERE FAULT YOU SIT THERE AND EAT 5 OF THERE BIG MEALS N GAIN 500+ POUNDS OR EAT THERE 3 N 7 TIMES ADAY!! ITS THE PARENTS FAULT IN THE 1ST PLACE FOR NOT TEACHING THE KIDS TO EAT RIGHT + OVER WEIGHT ADULTS SHOULD KNOW BETTER!! NO ONE DID THIS TO YOU BUT YOU !! SO GET OFF UR BUTTS N DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT BESIDES SITTING ON UR HUGE ASS WHINEING N BITCHING ABOUT HOW THIS FAST FOOD PLACE MADE THEM FAT OR FIGHTING FOR THERE LIFES!! GOOD FOR YOU DUMBAZZ ADULTS WHO DONT WANNA TAKE RESPONSABILLITY ON MAKEN UR SELF SO HUGE N UNATRACTIVE!! DONT BLAME THE FAST FOOD PPL BLAME UR FAT AZZ N FRIDGERATERS OR PISS POOR JUDGEMENT!! THIS FAST FOOD BS IS JUST AS BAD AS THESES WARS WE ARE FIGHT ON WHO'S GOT THE BIGGEST AMAGINARY FRIEND!!!! JC IS JC ANYWAY YOU CUT IT!!!!!! + IT DOESENT HELP WE GOT KIDS((12-15YR OLD KIDS HAVEN KIDS N LETING THE KIDS DO WHAT EVER THEY WANT WHEN THEY WANT!!! WE NEED 2 GO BACK TO THE OLD SCHOOL STYLE OF BRINNG UP OUR KIDS N START SMACKING THEM TO KEEP THEM IN LINE!! UNLIKE THESES PUNK AZZ WORTHLESS KIDS WE HAVE RUNNING AROUND NOW!!!! THEY DONT WANT TO WORK N THEY WANT EVERYTHING HANDED TO THEM ON A PLATE 4GET THAT BS!!!! YOU WANT IT GET OFF UR BUTT N DO SOME HARD WORK FOR IT! INSTEAD THERE OVER WEIGHT/STEALING/GANGBAGN N BLAMEN EVERTONE ELSE 4 THERE PROBLEMS!!!! ITS UR PARENTS FAULT 4 NOT DOING THERE JOBS RIGHT!!! N NOW WE HAVE 2 HEAR TIGH AZZ'S BITCH ABOUT FAST FOOD N WHAT THERE SERVING??? UR JOKEING RIGHT??? HOW ABOUT WE DROP THE BS N GET DOWN TO THE REAL PROBLEMS IN OUR COUNTRY LIKE IMAGRAINS TAXES N GETING A REAL PRESADENT WHO KNOWS ON WHAT HE'S DOING N GOING TO FIX THE PROBLEMS INSTEAD OF BITCHN ABOUT WHO'S SERVING WHAT N WHERE!!!!! WE NEED TO GO BACK TO THE 30-60 ERA WHERE AMERICA WAS PROUD THAT WE HAND MADE STUFF N ITS LASTED FOR YRS UNLIKE THE CHEAP CRAP WE HAVE NO N SENDING OUT TO OTHER COUNTRYS 4GET THAT BS N WE SHOOD STOP SENDING CASH TO THEM! NOONE HELPS US OUT BUT WE ARE ALWAYS THE ONES WHO GET CALLED APON TO BAIL OUT SOME OTHER CRAP HOLE OF A 3RD WORLD COUNTRY AND FOR WHAT???? WIASTING OUT TROOPS LIVES FOR NOTHIN!! IV SERVED FOR MY COUNTRY N IM DAM PROUD OF IT 2!!!! BUT FAST FOOD IS NO BIG DEAL COMPARED TO BS WE R DOING 4 OTHER COUNTRYS!!!! AMERICA ITS TIME 2 WAKE UP N PULL UR HEADS OUT OF UR BUTTS N STOP BLAMEN OTHER PPL 4 UR FAULTS N ADULT UP N TAKE RESPONSE ABILTY 4 UR ACTIONS! ALL UP TIGHT PPL NEED2 DIE

June 17 2011 at 6:58 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
MissDee

fast food chains are rediculously over priced...happt meals are more than a small combo meal w/less food...mcdonalds is the $10.00 value meal....lunch trucks serve healthier and mostly cheaper prices...greedy bitches from hell

June 17 2011 at 6:11 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
thudula

The SODIUM CONTENT is THE PROBLEM. 50% SODIUM? The Body "SWELLS" from SODIUM. A hand full of nuts and a dash of salt will do the same.

June 17 2011 at 5:59 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply