Kids Are Eating Fewer Burgers and Fries—but That Doesn’t Mean They’re Healthier

A new study shows that consumption of fast food declined between 2003 and 2010.

(Photo: Peter Cade/Getty Images)

Mar 31, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

The kids are all right.

Or rather, they may be. Even if they have ample amounts of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to eat at school and their parents are being told that Kraft Singles are a healthy food, somehow, someway, the message is getting through: Kids ate less fast food in 2010 than they did in 2003, according to a study released on Monday.

The research, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, relies on analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. The authors found that in the 2009–2010 survey, 33 percent of kids would eat some type of fast food on a regular basis, down from 39 percent in 2003. Adults are also relying less on the drive-through.

“I think some are related to consumer preference and demand, and some are changes made by restaurants,” Colin D. Rehm, one of the study’s coauthors and a postdoc at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, told Time, “which may include reducing the portion sizes, reformulating existing items, or offering different items to potentially replace higher-calorie offerings.”

The industry has seen extensive reform efforts in the near decade covered by the study. Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Super Size Me was released in 2004, for reference, and McDonald’s didn’t get rid of its supersize drinks and fries until the same year.

While kids were eating less at chains that trade in burgers, pizza, and chicken, according to the study, consumption remained level at Mexican and sandwich chains. Childhood obesity rates remain stubbornly high: Close to 18 percent of kids aged six to 11 were obese in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the obesity figures suggest, the solution is far from being as simple as less versus more. All meals aren’t created equal either, as Rehm told Time: “If the calories are dropping, and sodium, added sugar, and refined grains are increasing, then we haven’t made much progress.”