Fast-food consumption is
often blamed for the epidemic of overweight and obesity among US children. But
a new study finds that poor eating the rest of the day is most strongly linked
with weight issues.
"While reducing fast
food is important to improve dietary quality, we [also] need to focus on the
rest of the diet," said study researcher Jennifer Poti, a doctoral
candidate in nutritional epidemiology at the University of North Carolina,
The children in the study
who ate fast food were more likely to eat a typical unhealthy Western diet the
rest of the day, Poti found.
Read: Fast food without the fat
The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was
supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the US National Institutes
of Health. No funding from the fast-food industry was involved.
The findings are a call for
better overall nutrition education, said Connie Diekman, director of university
nutrition at Washington University in St Louis. Diekman reviewed the findings
but did not take part in the study.
Better nutrition education
"The fact that
fast-food diners – especially adolescents – tend to choose nutrient-poor
foods outside of the fast-food meal demonstrates the need for better nutrition
education and a focus on the whole diet to meet health needs," Diekman
The researchers used 2007
to 2010 data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They
studied nearly 4 500 US kids aged 2 to 18. The children or their parents
completed two different 24-hour food-recall diaries, describing what they ate
Half of the children ate
fast food, with nearly 40% of kids eating up to 30% of their total calories
from fast food. About 10% of the children consumed more than 30% of their
calories from fast food.
Read: Is fast food addictive?
Fast food not entirely off hook
The strongest link the
researchers found was between the remainder of a kid's diet and weight issues – not the fast food alone. The connection between the remainder of the diet
and overweight or obesity held even after they took kids' physical activity
into account, Poti said.
Of course, fast food isn't
entirely off the hook, she said.
"Fast food is still a
very important factor and associated with poor diet quality and overweight and
obesity," Poti said. "When we think about trying to improve our
child's diet, we need to think about all the places our kids eat, and encourage
More prudent diet plan
Among the children who got
more than 30% of their calories from fast food and ate a Western diet – which
includes more soda and salty snacks and less milk and fruit – the remainder of
the day, 40 percent were overweight or obese, Poti said.
Meanwhile, 28% of those who
did not eat fast food and followed a more prudent diet plan – a lower intake
of soda and chips and higher consumption of milk and fruit – had weight
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