It's not just fast food making U.S. kids obese, study says
Imagine for a moment that all of the nation’s fast-food establishments — all the drive-thru windows, the beckoning dollar deals and wafting odor of french fries — were to vanish overnight. Would the number of our kids who carry an unhealthy amount of extra weight plummet?
The answer is very likely no, says a study published this week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. You can shut off the supply of 24-ounce fountain drinks, bacon cheeseburgers, fried chicken and stuffed tacos.
But the children who frequently eat at fast-food restaurants will go home and do what they generally do when not eating at a fast-food restaurant: They’ll snarf cookies and chips, chug sugar-sweetened soda from a bottle, and heat up frozen pizzas.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina led by nutrition professor Barry Popkin studied the issue. They found that children who frequent fast-food restaurants tend to eat food that would probably make many of them overweight or obese anyway. They do this even when they are not eating at those restaurants.
The authors of the latest research combed through a national database of Americans’ health and nutrition behaviors. They grouped 4,466 American kids — from ages 2 to 18 — according to what they ate when they were not eating food purchased at a fast-food restaurant.
What They Eat, Not Where, Important
Participants were designated “Western diet” consumers if their consumption from non-fast-food sources was relatively high in saturated fats and added sugars. Others were classified as following a “prudent diet.” They ate more fruits and vegetables, leaner proteins and less added sugar and saturated fat.
After doing so, the authors went back to the children’s detailed food consumption record. They categorized some of the children as nonconsumers of fast food. Those children had food tracking records that indicated no calories consumed from a restaurant or eating establishment without servers. Others were called low consumers. Their food tracking records indicated that no more than 30 percent of their calories came from such an establishment. The last group was called high consumers. More than 30 percent of the calories consumed came from a fast-food restaurant.
The result: Those who followed the Western dietary pattern when not dining at fast-food restaurants had the highest rates of being overweight or obese. This was true even for those who were considered “nonconsumers” of fast food. Those who followed a “prudent diet” when not dining on fast food were significantly less likely to be overweight or obese. This was the case even for those who were considered high consumers of fast food.
On average, low consumers of fast food were 1.5 times as likely to follow a Western diet pattern of consumption than people who were considered nonconsumers of fast food. High consumers of fast food were 2.2 times as likely to do so.
“Our findings suggest that the location where foods are obtained may not be as important as the nutritional quality of the foods consumed,” the authors wrote in Thursday’s study. They also suggest that “the effect of public health efforts targeted at fast-food restaurants may also be overestimated." Those efforts may be "necessary but not sufficient to reduce child obesity if the remainder of the diet is not addressed.”
The study was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The authors — Jennifer M. Poti, Kiyah J. Duffy and Popkin — declared they had no financial conflicts of interest with respect to the article.