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A bit or a lot on the side? Observational study of the energy content of starters, sides and desserts in major UK restaurant chains
  1. Magdalena Muc,
  2. Andrew Jones,
  3. Carl Roberts,
  4. Florence Sheen,
  5. Ashleigh Haynes,
  6. Eric Robinson
  1. Department of Psychological Sciences, Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Magdalena Muc; mmuc{at}


Objectives Our objective was to examine the kilocalorie (kcal) content of starters, sides and desserts served in major UK restaurant chains, comparing the kcal content of these dishes in fast-food and full-service restaurants.

Design Observational study.

Setting Menu and nutritional information provided online by major UK restaurant chains.

Method During October to November 2018, we accessed websites of restaurant chains with 50 or more outlets in the UK. Menu items that constituted starters, sides or desserts were identified and their kcal content was extracted. Accompanying beverages were not included. We used multilevel modelling to examine whether mean kcal content of dishes differed in fast-food versus full-service restaurants.

Main outcome measures The mean kcal content of dishes and the proportion of dishes exceeding public health recommendations for energy content in a main meal (>600 kcal).

Results A total of 1009 dishes (212 starters, 318 sides and 479 desserts) from 27 restaurant chains (21 full-service, 6 fast-food) were included. The mean kcal content of eligible dishes was 488.0 (SE=15.6) for starters, 397.5 (SE=14.9) for sides and 430.6 (SE=11.5) for desserts. The percentage of dishes exceeding 600 kcal was 26.4% for starters, 21.7% for sides and 20.5% for desserts. Compared with fast-food chains, desserts offered at full-service restaurants were on average more calorific and were significantly more likely to exceed 600 kcal.

Conclusions The average energy content of sides, starters and desserts sold in major UK restaurants is high. One in four starters and one in five sides and desserts in UK chain restaurants exceed the recommended energy intake for an entire meal.

  • food environment
  • eating out
  • restaurant food
  • kilocalories
  • obesity

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  • Contributors ER and MM designed the study. MM, CR and FS contributed to data collection. AH provided an advice and expertise at all stages and helped solving eligibility disagreements. AJ and MM were responsible for data analysis. MM was responsible for initial drafting of the paper and all authors approved the manuscript and had full access to the data.

  • Funding The MRC (MR/N00218/1) part fund ER’s salary.

  • Disclaimer The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the MRC.

  • Competing interests All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form at ER has been a named investigator on research projects funded by the American Beverage Association but does not consider this funding a conflict of interest.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available in a public, open access repository.

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