Fast Food Means Fast Gains

Kids eating fast food or at restaurants eat more calories and fat

(RxWiki News) It's so convenient. When McDonald's or Burger King is on your way home from an errand, you can swing by with the kids for a quick lunch. But the calories add up.

A recent study found that kids eat many more calories when they eat out. They also eat more fat and sugar grams when eating fast food or at restaurants.

"Eat less fast food."

The study, led by Lisa M. Powell from the School of Public Health and the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, aimed to find out how eating fast food affected the total number of calories kids consumed.

The researchers used nationally representative data from three National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (2003-04, 2005-06 and 2007-08).

The surveys asked for dietary information on two different days for 4,717 children, aged 2 to 11, and 4,699 teens, aged 12 to 19.

The children or their parents were asked what the kids had eaten in the past 24 hours on each of the days, which did not occur back-to-back.

The researchers estimated how many total calories the kids ate, as well as their total intake of grams of sugar, total fat, saturated fat and protein.

They also estimated how many milligrams of sodium the children consumed and how many total grams of sugar-sweetened beverages, soda and milk they drank.

They found that the younger children who had eaten at fast food restaurants took in an average 126 extra calories on those days. The adolescents ate an extra 310 calories on days they ate fast food.

Eating out at regular restaurants had a similar effect. The younger kids consumed an additional 160 calories over their normal daily average on days they ate at a full-service, sit-down restaurants. The teens took in an extra 267 calories.

The researchers also saw increases in the children's fat, sugar and sodium intake on fast food days.

Both age groups consumed an average 7 to 14 extra grams of total fat and 6 to 16 grams of extra sugar. Teens took in an extra 396 extra milligrams of sodium as well as an extra 8 grams of protein.

Eating out – fast food or full service – also led to more soda drinking, especially at full-service restaurants.

Compared to what kids drank at fast food restaurants, the children drank about twice as much soda at sit-down restaurants, presumably because of free refills. They also drank less milk on days they ate out.

The authors found that the additional intake was especially pronounced among lower-income kids when they ate out.

The authors suggest that fast food restaurants are often clustered near schools, which might contribute to this problem. They suggested policies be considered that might help reduce children's intake of fast food and restaurant food.

The study was published November 5 in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. The study was funded by grants from the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
November 5, 2012