Children and teens consume more calories and soft drinks and fewer nutrients on days they eat at either fast-food or full-service restaurants, compared to days they eat home-prepared meals.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago examined calorie intake, diet quality, and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, particularly soft drinks, on days when kids ate out as compared to days they did not. They used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for the years between 2003 and 2008, which included 4,717 children ages 2 to 11 and 4,699 adolescents ages 12 to 19.
At restaurants, the researchers found, youths consumed higher amounts of sugar, total fat, saturated fat and sodium.
Take-out fared better in one regard -- the researchers found adolescents consumed twice as much soda when eating in the restaurant, as compared to when they ate the restaurant food at home. This is likely due to free refills offered in restaurants.
Children and adolescents also drank less milk on days when they ate at restaurants.
The study showed that on days when adolescents ate fast food, they consumed an additional 309 calories, suggesting they don't reduce their non-restaurant food intake enough to compensate. Young children took in an additional 126 calories. Full-service dining caused increases of about 267 calories for teens and 160 calories for children.
The concern is that kids are consuming fast food too frequently, and not in moderation.
Limiting consumption from restaurants would help "improve diet outcomes among children and youth," the researchers said. Better nutritional standards are needed "to improve the range of healthy food options available, in order to turn around the obesity trend."
The researchers also found fast food had even greater adverse effects on diet for lower-income children, potentially increasing health disparities. Lower-income teens who consumed fast food took in more sugar, total fat, saturated fat, and sodium than their higher-income peers.
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.
Fast food is heavily promoted to children through television ads, the researchers say. Fast-food restaurants tend to cluster around schools and are more prevalent in low-income neighborhoods.
Source: Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, November 2012
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.