TUESDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Kids' meals at fast-food
restaurants are high in fat, calories and sodium, a new study
In fact, researchers from the University of California, San
Diego, found kids' fast-food lunches, often offered as rewards,
accounted for up to 51 percent of most children's daily caloric
needs and more than 50 percent of their recommended daily sodium
intake (100 percent of recommended sodium levels for preschoolers).
Moreover, at least 35 percent of those fast food calories came from
fat, the study noted.
"We found that families perceived fast-food restaurants as easy and cheap, and many were using fast food as a reward for their children," Kerri N. Boutelle, behavioral director of the Weight and Wellness Clinic at the University of California, San Diego and Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego, said in a university news release. "Considering the high prevalence of fast-food consumption by adults as well as kids, it's important to recognize the impact of fast food and its impact on the current obesity epidemic in the U.S."
Over the course of six weeks, the researchers surveyed 544
families with children as they entered a fast-food chain restaurant
located inside the Rady Children's Hospital for lunch. Although the
families' receipts were collected to record what they ordered, they
were asked to explain what they chose and why. For instance, they
had to clarify who ate particular items, if food was shared and if
their sodas were diet.
The study found the foods most often bought for preschoolers
were French fries, soda, chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers and
hamburgers. Older children ate similar foods along with hot apple
pies (ages 6 to 11) and chocolate chip cookies (ages 12 to 18).
Soda was also ordered more often than milk or juice, the
researchers added. The families also passed over healthier food
options, like fruit parfaits, in favor of more traditional fast
The study authors pointed out the fact that the fast-food
restaurant was located inside a children's hospital may have
influenced their results since the families' options may have been
limited. Although they had the families' receipts, the researchers
admitted they had no way of confirming exactly how much each person
The study, published in the journal
Childhood Obesity, also revealed that families went to the fast-food restaurant for the following reasons:
- The children (and the adults) liked the food
- The fast food was a reward
- The family was hungry, and had no other food options
The toys included with the children's meals were not a big
factor in the families' decisions to choose fast food. In fact, the
researchers noted 49 percent of the families surveyed said that
didn't enter into their decision at all.
The study's authors concluded that families should receive more
information on proper nutrition, taking into account that people
simply like fast food. "Bottom line, we need to educate families on
making health decisions when in a fast-food restaurant," Boutelle
The American Academy of Pediatrics provides more on