You Can’t Blame Fast-Food Alone for Your Children’s Weight Problems

Childhood obesity is an overall eating pattern.

The rate of childhood obesity in the United States is growing, and for many years, experts, as well as parents, blamed the fast food industry. Many pointed to the constant advertising promoting fast food chains to children, and the large number of such locations popping up throughout the country. The problem seemed even more significant for low-income families, where fast food restaurants are commonly located. However, a recent study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reported that fast food consumption may only be a symptom of a larger problem when it comes to childhood obesity.

Fast Food Study

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, found that fast food consumption is a very small part of an overall nutritional problem fostered by parents who do not include enough fruits and vegetables in a child’s die, instead relying on processed foods, sugary snacks and sugar-laden beverages. Until recently, those same practices were reinforced by meals served at the child’s school, encouraging the poor eating habits that could lead to obesity. The study concluded that, although it is important to limit the amount of fast food children eat, the child’s entire diet must be reviewed when obesity is diagnosed.

fast food childhood obesityParent Intervention

The researchers say that parents should limit the amount of fast food children eat, but by increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables, reducing how many sugary beverages and snacks the child eats and encouraging exercise, there is a much greater chance of reducing the child obesity rate in the country. The study examined 4,466 students between the ages of two and 18, categorizing them as follows:

  • Non-consumers of fast food (50 percent of those studied)
  • Low consumers of fasts food whose diet consisted of 30 percent or less of calories from fast foods (40 percent of those studied)
  • High consumers of fast food whose diet consisted of more than 30 percent of calories from fast food (10 percent of those studied)

Researchers then determined the group with the highest rate of obesity and the results indicated that fast food alone was not a significant factor in childhood obesity, but children who ate poor diets in addition to fast food were more likely to be obese.

Suggestions for Parents

Parents whose children rely on fast foods may feel as if they do not have the financial ability or the time to purchase or prepare healthy foods, which is why childhood obesity is growing rapidly among low-income families. Experts say that even low-income families can provide healthy, nutritious foods for children, and that creating healthy meals does not have to be expensive or time consuming. In fact, there are hundreds of initiatives throughout the United States aimed at bringing affordable, healthy foods to low income areas in an effort to combat obesity in those areas. With a strong push to end childhood obesity in the country, many organizations, such as “Let’s Move” and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offer websites with valuable tips and suggestions that teach low-income families how to create healthy foods with little time and a low income.

This recent study shows that, although fast food should be moderated in a child’s diet, it is not the sole reason a child becomes obese. It shows that an overall diet of unhealthy foods and lack of exercise are more than likely the culprit when a child is overweight.