Fast Food Restaurants Linked To Higher Sugar And Calorie Consumption In Children

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

New research from the University of Chicago, Illinois recently found that kids will drink more soda and eat more calories when they are out eating at fast food stops or sit-down restaurants as opposed to when they are at home.

Published online by the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, the findings are the first to observe separately the impact of fast food and full-service restaurants. In the study, the team of investigators looked at the calorie intake, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, and the diet quality of meals of kids at home compared to meals when they were dining out. The data, pooled from the National Health and Nutrition Survey, included 4,717 children between the ages of two and eleven as well as 4,699 adolescents between 12 to 19 years of age. The information spanned from 2003 and 2008 and highlighted the fact that kids took in higher amounts of saturated fat, sodium, sugar and total fat when they ate at restaurants.

Interestingly, youth consumed twice as much as soda when they were eating meals at a restaurant as opposed to when the same dish was bought to-go and eaten at home. The researchers also discovered that adolescents and children consumed less milk on the days that they were eating out at restaurants.

“We attribute that to the free refills,” explained the study´s lead author Lisa Powell, professor of health policy and administration in the UIC School of Public Health, in a prepared statement.

The team of investigators believes that adolescents and youths are consuming fast food too frequently and in extreme amounts. The results of the study showed that adolescents who visited fast food shops ate an extra 309 calories, while young children consumed an extra 126 calories. Those who visited restaurants showed similar results, with teens consuming an additional 267 calories and children consuming an additional 160 calories.

The researchers also discovered that there was a difference of fast food and restaurant food consumption by low-income children versus higher-income children. Teens from low-income families tended to consume more fast food, thus resulting in higher amounts of sodium, sugar, saturated fat, and total fat.

“When lower-income youths are eating fast food, they are choosing more energy-dense, lower quality foods that tend to be higher in fats and sodium and can be purchased cheaply,” commented Powell in the statement. “They are not going to the fast food restaurant and getting a salad or the healthier turkey sub with lots of veggies.”

With these staggering statistics, the scientists recommended that teens and kids limit their visits to restaurants. They also stated that better nutritional standards are necessary in terms of providing better options to diners and changing the obesity trend.

“At the same time, regulatory and voluntary policies that aim to set standards for the nutritional content of meals obtained from restaurants are increasingly being implemented, and continued efforts are needed to improve and promote healthy food options in restaurants,” wrote the authors.

However, the researchers noted the difficulties that may arise with this issue as many fast food companies advertise their meals to children through advertising on television. As well, fast food restaurants tend to pop up around schools. There are also a higher number of these stores in low-income communities.

“We need an environment that promotes healthy rather than unhealthy food and beverage choices,” concluded Powell in the statement.

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