Like most people at this time of year, statistician Nathan Yau has calories on the brain. But you’ll find no sugar plum visions here; Yau is thinking about fast food—specifically, how to eat less of it. With two kids and a waningmetabolism, hes not waiting untilJanuary to make resolutions. Thatgothim wondering: How does the distribution of calories vary between fast food chains?
To answer that, Yau spent the better part of a day cutting, pasting and analyzing publicly posted menu information from 10 of the most popular fast food chains. What he came up with on his website Flowingdata was a calorie distribution chart. Each square corresponds to a menu item at the designated restaurant. The leftmost squares correspond to foodwith the fewest calories, the rightmost squares designate themost calorically dense. The result is a pleasingly pixelated peek into the fast food ecosystem. The spreads match up nicely with how I perceive the restaurants, says Yau. The distribution really seems to reveal their marketing strategies.
At the top youve got Carls Jr. and Jack in the Box, the fast food chains fast food chains, with manyunapologetically high-calorie items. Exhibit A: the American Thickburger. McDonalds is more conciliatory, carrying something to appeal to everyone throughout the day. And dont be fooled by Taco Bell and KFCs positions near the bottom. Both restaurants push lots of calorie-light individual items, says Yau, perhaps betting that customers wont do the math when they have to order five items to fill up on a meal.
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