Children's Growing Fast Food Diet | Children's Health Blog

Date: 09/29/2015    Written by: Beth Levine

Daily Fast Food for Lots of U.S. Kids

Children's Growing Fast Food Diet | Children's Health Blog

You're busy; we totally understand. Late afternoons are especially tough as you get out of work and part two of your day begins, juggling errands and getting your children to and from various activities. It's completely understandable that some nights you simply have no time or energy to get home and cook a healthy dinner. But the problem is that too many people are giving in to the convenience of fast food meals for the family too often. And the latest research shows that quite a few American kids are eating fast food on a daily basis.

The study, which took place at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, found that approximately one-third of all children and teenagers in the United States are eating pizza or fast food every single day.1 The subjects were roughly 3,100 children between the ages of two and 19 and their parents in the cases of the younger participants. They were all interviewed in 2011 and 2012, and the questions included a reporting of everything they had consumed in the previous 24 hours.

The researchers compiled the survey answers and discovered that an average of 34.3 percent of kids have fast food daily. The researchers then broke the data down further and separated older children from younger ones. The investigators determined that adolescents were receiving approximately 17 percent of their daily calories from fast food consumption versus approximately nine percent for the younger kids. When they categorized the volunteers by race and ethnicity, they found that white, black, and Hispanic children received a similar proportion of their daily calories from fast food, all hovering around 12 percent. In contrast, Asian kids had a notably lower intake, with just eight percent of daily calories coming from fast food.

Interestingly, the socioeconomic status of a family did not appear to influence the children's fast food consumption in a major way. This differs from the findings of a 2011 University of California Davis study which showed an association between middle class income and greater intake of fast food.2

A moderately active teenager should have an intake of approximately 2,600 calories per day. So if the average adolescent is getting roughly 17 percent of his or her calories from fast food, that translates to 442 fast food calories each day. That's like eating a McDonald's double cheeseburger or a fried chicken sandwich at KFC on a daily basis.

The only good news to come out of this study is that the percentage of kids eating fast food daily has not gotten any worse. It has remained fairly stable at approximately 12 percent since the 1990s. But instead of patting ourselves on the back for not increasing these already high numbers, it is time to step up and do something to reduce them.

Fast food is high in calories, fat, and sodium, and offers very little in the way of nutrition. Plus, you can often supersize your meal with an even larger sandwich, fries, and drink for only a little added pocket change, leading to overeating as well. And the much touted "improvements" to fast food menus don't add up to any substantial difference. While it might not do much harm when eaten on rare occasions, far too many of us make fast food and pizza the norm rather than the exception.

A 2014 study at the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand in Wellington found that across a number of countries frequent consumption of fast food is associated with an elevated BMI in children.3 And we all know that obesity is a contributing factor to many illnesses including diabetes and heart disease. If we work toward a goal of modifying our habits and making sure our children eat better, it will make a huge difference. Focus on cooking ahead of time and freezing meals or keeping fruit and veggies handy for the kids to snack on while you prepare a later dinner. It may be tough on certain days of the week, and your kids might have a lot of complaints about changes to their cuisine, but if you stand firm they will ultimately be happier and healthier.

  • 1. Vikraman, Sundeep; et al. "Caloric Intake From Fast Food Among Children and Adolescents in the United States, 2011-2012." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 16 September 2015. Accessed 20 September 2015.
  • 2. Leigh, J. Paul and Kim, DaeHwan. "UC Davis study shows that fast-food dining is most popular for those with middle incomes, rather than those with lowest incomes." UC Davis Health System. 27 October 2011. Accessed 21 September 2015.
  • 3. Braithwaite, Irene; et al. "Fast-food consumption and body mass index in children and adolescents: an international cross-sectional study." BMJ Open. 8 December 2014. Accessed 21 September 2015.

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