Almost 90% of 17-year-olds living in Soweto, Johannesburg, eat fast food items three or more times per week.
According to researchers from Witwatersrand University, who presented their findings at the 2008 Nutrition Congress in Pretoria on Monday, this is in stark contrast to numbers observed in the United States, where only 22.5% of youths eat fast food this regularly.
The research further demonstrated that, on average, male participants consumed eight fast-food items, and female participants 7.2 items, per week.
Teens feast on ‘quarters’
The study was conducted among a random sample of 655 black 17-year-olds, participating in the Birth-to-Twenty cohort, Soweto. Participants were required to complete an interviewer-administered questionnaire on fast-food consumption over the past seven days.
The teenagers seemed to choose extremely high-fat, high-energy meals when they opted for fast food, and reported that the “quarter”, a derivative of the “bunny chow”, was the most popular meal. This meal typically consists of a quarter loaf of white bread, served with potato chips, fried eggs, processed cheese and luncheon meats or sausages.
A comparison between a “quarter” and a medium Big Mac meal showed that “quarters” contributed 5185kJ as compared to 4038kJ for a Big Mac meal, resulting in a difference of 1147kJ. Fat content for the quarter was 41.6g and 35.6g for the Big Mac meal, while the protein content was fairly similar. A “quarter” typically had an extreme sodium content of approximately 2280mg.
Seeing that the average daily requirement for a 17-year-old is approximately 10 000kJ and one “quarter” contributes half of this requirement, researchers are concerned that the consumption of these meals could ultimately lead to overweight and obesity.
However, analysis of participants’ body mass index (BMI) indicated that most participants’ fall in the “normal” range (a BMI of between 18 and 25). Researchers speculate that high activity levels or the fact that the teenagers are still in a growth phase could explain why most of them had a normal body weight, despite the regular intake of fatty, high-energy foods.
Disruption of appetite-control systems
Lead researcher Alison Feeley told congress delegates that fast-food intake has been associated with the disruption of the body’s normal appetite-control systems – a phenomenon that could ultimately lead to over-consumption of foods and overweight or obesity.
Fast-food intake is furthermore associated with an inverse intake of fruit and vegetables, and micronutrients. It has also been linked to increased fat and sodium, and decreased fibre intake.
- (Carine van Rooyen, Health24, September 2008)
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