New Study Finds Kids Are Eating More Fast Food Than Before

child eating fast food

Any parent will tell you that having the option to grab a quick dinner at the local drive thru on the way home after a busy day at work before an even busier evening is priceless. After all, families are busy are there often isn't time to prepare a home cooked meal after school or work before heading out for the evening's activities.

While fast food options are definitely convenient, they also aren't the healthiest options. And while most parents try to limit how often they opt for fast food for the family, a new study has shown that American kids are actually eating more fast food than they ever have before.

The study, conducted by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut polled approximately 800 parents in 2010, 2013, and 2016 and asked them what they had ordered their children (ages 2-11) in the past week from the four largest fast food restaurants. Those restaurants were McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Subway. According to the study 61% of the parents who were polled were mothers between the ages of 25 and 40 who mostly had at least two children between the ages of 2 and 11.

Not surprisingly, the study showed that parents are feeding their kids more fast food than ever. In 2010 the study showed that 79% of parents had bought their kids lunch or dinner in the previous 7 days from one of the fast food restaurants listed above, while that number rose to 91% in 2016. McDonald's proved to be the most popular choice for parents to order from.

child fast food
Credit: iStock / kwanchaichaiudom

Despite the fact that many fast food chains are offering healthier options with their children's meals, the study also found that 74% polled stated that they allowed their children to order unhealthy drinks and/or side items instead of the healthier options offered.

"While most fast-food restaurants do have healthier kids' meal drinks and sides available, many do little to make parents aware of the healthier options or to encourage parents to choose the healthier options instead of unhealthy ones. If restaurants are serious about children's health, they will make the healthiest choice the easiest choice for parents and the most appealing choice for children," said Jennifer Harris, Director of Marketing Initiatives for the UConn Rudd Center, and lead author of the report.

The study suggests that fast food restaurants offer the healthier drinks and food sides as the default option helping to make it easier for parents and kids to make better choices.

"We know that fast food offers parents a convenient, affordable option for feeding their families. But restaurants have a responsibility to make these affordable, convenient foods healthier. Most fast-food meals -- even kids' meals -- have more fat, sugar, and sodium than children need, and eating this kind of unhealthy food can have negative health consequences over time, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues," Harris said.

Harris feels this is a great opportunity for fast food chains to provide more nutritious choices for busy families.

"Fast-food restaurants have said they want to be part of the solution to childhood obesity. They can start by making the healthier drinks and sides the default options in kids' meals and introducing healthier kids' meal main dishes, which remain high in fat, sodium, and calories," she said."

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