A study by the British Medical Journal has suggested food served in pub and restaurant chains is unhealthier than that of fast-food chains.

The study sampled main meals from 21 full-service pub and restaurant chains and six fast food chains, focussing on brands with 50 or more sites.

It found that across the meals from major eating out chains, the mean energy content of main meals was 977 kcal, and that 47% were “excessive” in energy content (≥1000 kcal), and only 9% were in line with public health recommendations for main meal energy consumption (≤600 kcal). On average, the energy content of main meals served by full service chains was 268 kcal higher than that of main meals served by fast food restaurants. Full service chains also tended to serve more highly calorific main meals and provide fewer main meals meeting public health recommendations for energy consumption, the study said.

The authors of the study said the reasons for the divergence were not clear but multiple factors were likely to be involved, including the type of food sold, while decisions about portion size, energy density of ingredients, and cooking methods were also likely to explain differences in meal energy content between full service and fast food restaurants.

The study goes on to say: “A further explanation is that the negative press received by the fast food sector because of poor nutritional quality of products may have caused restaurant chains in this sector to offer more lower energy meal options or reformulate existing products to reduce energy content,2444 whereas the full service restaurant sector does not seem to have experienced similar pressures.”

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said restaurants, pubs and other hospitality businesses were already taking action to reduce calories and offer healthier dishes - but there were costs to consider too.

She added: “Proposals to shrink the size of dishes or cap calories would be yet another burden for hard-pressed operators to absorb, resulting in prices going up and investment in businesses going down; inevitably negatively impacting the overall customer experience.”

The full-service chains studied were: All Bar One, ASK, Bill’s, Chef and Brewer, Ember Inns, Flaming Grill, Harvester, Hungry Horse, JD Wetherspoons, Nando’s, Old English Inns, PizzaExpress, Pizza Hut. Sizzling Pubs, Slug and Lettuce, Stone House, Table Table, Toby Carvery, Vintage Inns, Wagamama, Zizzi.

The fast food chains covered were: Burger King, KFC, Leon, McDonalds, Subway and Wimpy.