The Shocking Amount of Fast Food Kids Eat Every Day
McDonald’s may be losing popularity in the U.S., but the dismal sales at the Golden Arches don’t mean kids have stopped chowing down on french fries, burgers, pizza, and fried chicken every day.
Roughly one-third of American kids eat fast food or pizza daily, according to a report released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Using data from the 2011–12 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey—which tracked 3,100 kids’ diets for one day—researchers determined that children consume about 12.4 percent of their calories from fast food. That figure has remained stagnant since the 1990s.
“At least we’re not seeing it go up,” Cheryl Fryar, one of the report’s authors, said in a statement.
The results vary by age group and ethnicity. Children two to 11 consumed about 8.6 percent of their calories from fast food, while those 12 to 16 got 16.9 percent of their calories from fast food. Black, white, and Hispanic children consumed roughly the same amount, while the average for Asian children was significantly lower—fast food was only 8 percent of their calorie intake. The child’s weight and gender and the family’s income had little effect on fast-food consumption.
The study notes that the high-calorie options packed with fat and sugar readily available at drive-through windows have been linked to an increase in childhood obesity, which has more than quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. More than one-third of children in the U.S. are either overweight or obese, while one in six children is obese, according to the CDC’s figures. Obese children are more likely to become obese adults, with myriad health risks, from type 2 diabetes, to heart disease, to several types of cancer.
Finding a healthy meal at a fast-food chain is possible, but high-calorie options far outweigh the nutritional choices. Only 3 percent of kids’ meals at the top 50 fast-food chains in the U.S. met the National Restaurant Association Kids LiveWell nutritional standards, according to a 2013 study from Food Advertising to Children and Teens Score. That means most meals made specially for kids are more than 600 calories, with at least 35 percent of the calories from fat and at least 770 milligrams of sodium. Based on the CDC’s 12 percent figure for fast-food consumption and the recommended 1,900 daily calorie diet for kids, the average child doesn’t eat an entire meal from a drive-through but consumes about 245 fast-food calories a day.
Kids are enticed to stop by fast-food chains for a small order of fries or a taco because of marketing campaigns designed specifically for them. The U.K., Denmark, Ireland, Norway, South Korea, and Russia all have restrictions on junk-food ads geared to children, but the U.S. has no mandatory standards, with food companies spending $1.28 billion on kid-friendly advertisements in 2012. While kids are presented with some healthy choices once they get to fast-food restaurants—such as apple slices, grilled chicken wraps, and smoothies—burgers, fries, and sodas are still readily available.