Doctors' dire warnings fail to dent enthusiasm for the 1,420-calorie 'monument to Americanism'

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the burger bar, an onslaught of super-sized monsters has returned to wreck all diet plans and stretch all waistlines.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the burger bar, an onslaught of super-sized monsters has returned to wreck all diet plans and stretch all waistlines.

In what has been pitched as a deliberate snub to the "food police", fast-food chains across the US are unveiling new, super-sized meals packed with calories and fat, deliberately designed to appeal to young men with little interest in nutrition. In a bizarre nexus of marketing and self-delusion, some diners apparently believe these new meals are more "American".

The first of the new breed was the Monster Thickburger, launched last November by the Hardee's chain, and containing two 5oz beef patties, bacon, cheese and mayonnaise. It contains 1,420 calories, 107g of fat and requires almost two hours of running to burn off the energy it provides.

It has apparently gone down a treat with the chain's customers.

"Sales results for this politically incorrect burger have been encouraging," Andrew Pudzer, chief executive of Hardee's parent company CKE Restaurants, told Wall Street analysts last month. He cited the burger's "audacity" as a reason for the chain's 5.8 per cent December sales increase. Others have been quick to follow. Carl's Jr, also owned by CKE Restaurants, has launched the Double Six Dollar burger with as many calories as the Monster; Pizza Hut is advertising a Full House XL pizza that is 30 per cent bigger than its usual large pizza and Burger King is trialling an Enormous Omelette Sandwich.

In Britain, the Domino's pizza chain yesterday announced a 13 per cent rise in sales since December, boosted by the launch of its Double Decadence pizza that comprises two pizza bases slathered in a herb and cheese sauce.

The wave of super-sized meals appears to buck a trend within the fast-food business for healthier meals with lower fat content and fewer calories.

Spurred by diet crazes and films such as Super Size Me , a documentary by Morgan Spurlock in which he ate nothing but McDonald's meals for a month and recorded the dramatic effects on his health, chains have been introducing items such as salads, fruit, bottled water and grilled chicken sandwiches. But it seems the chains are having it both ways. While offering one or two somewhat healthier options, they are also promoting the new, bigger meals by advertising them as maverick or "politically incorrect" products - especially to young men, who remain the chains' best customers.

The message appears to be getting through. Hardee's said it had been inundated with e-mails from customers who were delighted with its new burger. One, written by a 22-year-old Texas student, John Frensley, said: "While other restaurants were a bunch of nancy boys and became low-carb cowards in the face of moronic they-made-me-fat lawsuits you did the AMERICAN thing by spitting in the face of lawyers, nutritionists and food-Nazi types and offering a monument to Americanism."

Jeff Cronin of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, a campaign group, said: "It's not just Hardee's - others are doing it. For every more healthful product rolled out there is an unhealthy product rolled out. At the same time McDonald's released its salads, it released its McGriddle breakfast sandwich which was much less healthful."

The real and largely under-reported story of fast food in America is the link between poverty, poor diet and poor health. Sandy Sherman, nutritional educator with the Food Trust, said a number of studies showed an over reliance on fast-food chains by the poor and by ethnic minority groups.

"We have seen a correlation between a lack of access to supermarkets and a rise in diet-related deaths," she said. "If you live in a community where you have no access to fresh food you opt for packaged food or fast food even if it's low in nutritional value because you have to eat."