What's Driving Childhood Obesity? Apparently Not Fast Food
Are fast food chains actually scapegoats for the country's childhood obesity problem?
Fast food chains have been under fire recently for marketing campaigns targeting children, but new research suggests that the biggest culprit in the rise of childhood obesity may be found in your own refrigerator.
In a study of the eating habits of more than 4,000 children, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found a “pervasive dietary pattern” that favored processed foods and sugar-sweetened drinks over fruits and vegetables.
“This is really what is driving children’s obesity,” lead researcher Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, said in a statement released by the university. “Eating fast foods is just one behavior that results from those bad habits. Just because children who eat more fast food are the most likely to become obese does not prove that calories from fast foods bear the brunt of the blame.”
The study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was based on data on the dietary intake of 4,466 children, ages 2 to 18, from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2007 and 2010. Researchers categorized the children as “Western diet” consumers or “prudent diet” consumers, The Los Angeles Times reported. The former, when they didn’t eat at fast food restaurants, had diets high in saturated fats and added sugars. The latter ate more fruits and vegetables and leaner proteins.
Researchers also grouped children according to their fast food consumption, with 50 percent categorized as nonconsumers of fast food, 40 percent as low consumers and 10 percent as high consumers.
They found that low consumers and high consumers of fast food were more likely to follow the Western diet–the less healthy diet–when they ate outside fast food restaurants than non-consumers of fast food.
“Children who rely on fast foods may tend to have parents who do not have the means, desire or time to purchase or prepare healthy foods at home,” Popkin said.
But there were non-consumers of fast food who followed the Western diet. Those who did had this in common with others who followed Western diet: they had the highest rates of obesity, the Times reported.
“The study presented strong evidence that the children’s diet beyond fast-food consumption is more strongly linked to poor nutrition and obesity,” study co-author Jennifer Poti, a doctoral candidate in UNC’s Department of Nutrition, said in the university’s statement.
Feeding expert Dina Rose, a sociologist and the author of “It’s Not About Broccoli,” said that the research shows parents can “easily change how your kids eat.”
“You don’t have to picket the local McDonald’s or lobby congress. You just have to shop differently,” she wrote in a recent blog post. “Shift the quality of food you serve at home to make it healthier and it won’t matter what your kids eat at the fast food restaurant.”
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN