Seeing Fast Food Calories

Obesity in children and teens is a target of calorie counting effort

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Some fast food retailers openly list the calorie content of their menu items. And young people are among those giving a glance to those potentially fat-fighting figures.

Of the kids taking notice, those who were overweight were almost twice as likely as kids with healthy weights to read the rundown of calories on restaurant menus, according to a new study.

Since kids generally seem to be reading those caloric details, a good next step would be to explain what the numbers—and what’s behind them—mean to young people's health, the researchers said.

"Eat healthy to set a good example."

Holly Wethington, PhD, a behavioral scientist at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was the study’s lead author.

Noting that childhood obesity in the US has tripled during the last few decades, the study explored the impact of what young people eat away from home on their weight, namely in fast food and chain restaurants where calories, salt and fat tend to be more abundant.

Most research on fast food consumption has focused on adults, according to the researchers. But this study looked, instead, at what more than 700 9- to 18-year-olds answered about their fast food habits on a 2010 mail-in federal HealthStyles and YouthStyles questionnaire. Those who submitted answers were given a stipend.

Based on what they reported, the researchers concluded that 42.4 percent of the 9- to 18-year-olds read the calorie information on menus.

Youth eating at a fast food or chain restaurant at least twice a week were half as likely to report reading the calorie information as those who ate in such establishments just once a week, the researchers wrote.

"While this study is encouraging in showing that adolescents are looking at nutrition information, there is not enough data to show how they are using this information and whether or not it makes an impact in their choices leading to improvement in weight outcomes,” said Joshua Evans, MD, of Detroit Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital, a pediatrician who reviewed the study.

“Perhaps a greater benefit might be seen in those teens who have parents who model wise nutrition choices for them,” he added. “But further research would need to be done to determine this."

Roughly 56 percent of the studied youth were boys. About 32 percent were aged 12 to 14.

Most of them (65.8 percent) were a healthy weight, while 13.3 percent were obese.

More than 66 percent of the respondents were non-Hispanic whites. For 55 percent of respondents, annual household income, as reported by their parents, was at least $60,000.

Of those reporting that they ate at fast food or chain restaurants, about 65 percent said they did so once or fewer times a week, while about 34 percent said they went at least twice a week.

The study was published on May 22 in the Journal of Public Health.

The authors did not report any financial gain or investments that would influence study design or outcome.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 18, 2013
Last Updated:
August 22, 2013