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When it comes to fast food, supersizing might be a thing of the past. A new report from the Hudson Institute has found that between 2006 and 2011, chain restaurants that increased their low-calorie offerings sold nearly nine percent more products, while those that decreased their healthier options witnessed a sixteen percent drop in total sales. The report suggests what’s healthier for eaters is finally becoming better business for restaurants.

What’s the Deal?

The report was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is perhaps best known for its patronage of NPR’s healthcare coverage. It looked at 21 chain restaurants throughout the U.S., including McDonald’s, KFC, IHOP, and Olive Garden. The authors defined “low-calorie” as equal to or below 500 calories for entrees, 150 calories for sides, 50 calories for beverages (per 8 ounce serving), 150 calories for appetizers, and 150 calories for desserts.

Compared with 2006, total food servings across all the chains were down 2.3 percent in 2011, but lower-calorie food and beverage items saw significant increases in sales. And while fries still make up nearly a quarter of all food purchases at American fast food restaurants, our most popular side dish also experienced a drop in popularity with more eaters opting for lighter options with their meals.

Why It Matters

In the face of a true obesity epidemic, many Americans are unsure how to best combat the waistline crisis. But the Hudson report at least suggests more of us are deciding that no, thank you, we wouldn’t like fries with that. Fast-food chains like McDonald’s — which now offers fruit & nut snacks as well as an array of salads — aren’t the only ones focusing on lighter options. Beverage giant Coca-Cola has even released a new ad campaign focusing on their efforts to reduce calories and can sizes.

Fortunately, the stats aren’t all about replacing everything with salads. While many classic recipes are staying the same at restaurants, smaller portion sizes are making healthier eating easier. The result is a cycle of positive reinforcement where restaurants respond to consumer demand by providing healthier options. In the fight against obesity, good old fashioned economics is quickly becoming one of the most effective tools yet.

Do you look for healthier options at chain restaurants? Is there more these businesses can do? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author @d_tao.