November 14, 2005

Eating Out Bad for Kids’ Hearts, U.S. Study Finds

WASHINGTON -- Children who eat out frequently have higher blood pressure, cholesterol and other heart risk factors than children fed home-cooked meals more often, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

The study of more than 600 school-age children found that 20 percent ate out four or more times a week, not including the school cafeteria.

Those children, compared with their peers who ate out less, had higher blood pressure, unhealthier cholesterol levels, and worse blood sugar metabolism -- a precursor to type-2 diabetes, the researchers found.

They also ate more starch, sugar, salt, fat and cholesterol, the researchers told a meeting of the American Heart Association in Dallas.

"We are seeing younger and younger patients with more aggressive cardiovascular disease, and we realized we needed to take a closer look at our young people to see when risk factors emerge and why," said Karen Olson, executive director of the Cardiovascular Research and Education Foundation in Wausau, Wisconsin, who led the study.

"We're concerned because we know that children who have cardiovascular risks grow up to be adults who have these risks," added Olson, a registered nurse.

Children who are taken out to eat more often may also be fed more fast food and junk food at home, Olson said.

"In a 21-meal week, eating out four times shouldn't create the high-sugar, high-sodium, high-fat intake that we saw," Olson said in a statement.

"We think it's not just the eating out but the way these children are eating all the time, with lots of frozen pizzas and packaged macaroni and cheese on the days they eat at home."

Children who ate out more often also told the researchers that they drank almost twice as many sodas and other soft drinks as children who ate at home more -- about six cups a week compared with 3.65 cups a week.

The 621 children were surveyed as part of a broader project on heart disease. For the project, Olson's team randomly selected students in the second, fifth, eighth and 11th grades.

"As a culture, we say we value physical activity and healthy eating, but in reality we're all about convenience and convenience foods because we have such busy schedules," Olson said.