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Good News! Kids Are Eating Less Fast Food, Study Says

Good News! Kids Are Eating Less Fast Food, Study Says

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A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics shows that the number of kids who eat fast food on any given day has decreased

After years of depressing childhood obesity statistics, here’s something to smile about.

While the childhood obesity rate holds steady at an alarming 30 percent, and every day more and more ridiculous fast food items (like the Double Down sandwich) debut, here’s something we can actually feel relieved about. A new study from JAMA Pediatrics has shown that the number of children who eat fast food on any given day has decreased between 2003 and 2010 from 39 percent to 33 percent.In addition, caloric consumption from fast food restaurants for children between ages 4 and 9 fell by 110 calories within that timeframe.

"It is good news with a few important qualifiers," study author Colin Rehm told US News. "We need to make sure that the decrease in calories hasn't been paralleled by a drop in nutrients or food groups."

Researchers specifically saw a drop in pizza, burger, and chicken restaurants, but didn’t see a change in sandwiches or Mexican-style fast food restaurants. We guess Taco Bell is still popular with the under-18 set. The study’s authors do not feel that this is conclusive enough evidence to determine that kids are healthier, because variables, like the nutrition content of the calories kids did consume, was not taken into account.

Four million UK children too poor to have a healthy diet, study finds

Greengrocer’s shop in Cambridge, England. For the poorest half of the population a healthy balanced diet will account, on average, for nearly a third of disposable income. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Greengrocer’s shop in Cambridge, England. For the poorest half of the population a healthy balanced diet will account, on average, for nearly a third of disposable income. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Last modified on Wed 5 Sep 2018 07.44 BST

Almost 4 million children in the UK live in households that would struggle to afford to buy enough fruit, vegetables, fish and other healthy foods to meet the official nutrition guidelines, a groundbreaking food poverty study reveals.

The research, by the Food Foundation thinktank, says the diminishing ability of low-income families to pay for healthy food is consigning the least well-off to a greater risk of diet related illness, such as obesity and diabetes, as well as widening health inequalities across society.

The poorest fifth of families would have to set aside more than 40% of their total weekly income after housing costs to satisfy the requirements of the government’s Eatwell guide, the study finds.

The authors of the report have called on ministers to increase welfare benefit payments and ensure healthy foods are made more widely available and affordable to low-income households, for instance through maternity food vouchers and universal free school meals.

“The government’s measurement of household income highlights the fact that millions of families in the UK cannot afford to eat in line with the government’s own dietary guidance,” said Anna Taylor, the executive director of the Food Foundation. “It’s crucial that a coordinated cross-government effort develops policy that accounts for the cost of its recommended diet and creates a food system that does not consign those on lower incomes to the risk of diet related illness.”

The Eatwell guide, drawn up by Public Health England, defines the advised proportion of a diet relating to five categories: fruit and vegetables carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice and pasta proteins including beans, fish, eggs and meat dairy and oils and spreads.

The Food Foundation says its study is the first investigation into the extent to which typical UK households can afford to follow the guidelines. On official cost estimates, it calculates that a family of two adults and two children aged 10 and 15 would need to spend £103.17 a week on the food.

The official cost per adult of meeting the Eatwell guidelines is £41.93 a week. A household with two adults would need to spend £68.74 per week, the study calculates. A family of two adults and three children, aged two, five and eight, would need a weekly food budget of £111.35.

The study estimates that 47% of all UK households with children do not spend enough on food to meet the Eatwell cost targets, a proportion that rises to 60% for single parent families. Just 20% of households where the main earner is unemployed spends the recommended amount, it estimates.

The costs of healthy eating fall disproportionately on the poorest half of the population, for whom a healthy balanced diet would account for nearly a third of disposable income on average, the study finds. This compares with an average 12% of disposable income for the wealthiest half of households.

Households in the lowest two income deciles – earning less than £15,860 a year – would need to spend 42% of their income after rent, while those in the top 10% of incomes would need to spend just 6% of their disposable income, the researchers estimate.

Although the foundation is concerned about some households lacking cookery skills or access to shops selling fresh produce, it believes lack of money is the main driver of unhealthy eating. “Most people know what to do for a healthy diet, but they don’t do it because the healthy options are not the cheap options,” a spokesperson said.

The study comes as concerns rise about food insecurity (defined as an inability to afford to eat regularly or healthily) among the poorest households.

A parliamentary bill requiring the government to measure food insecurity, drawn up by Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck, will get its second reading in October.

Income in poor households decreased by 7.1% between 2002 and 2016, the study says, while food prices rose by 7.7%. It says further price rises, triggered for example by Brexit-related fluctuations in the value of the pound, could leave a family of four needing an extra £158 a year to meet Eatwell standards.

“For households in the lowest income deciles who are already struggling to afford a healthy diet, this level of price increase will move the government’s official dietary recommendations further out of reach,” it says.

Last year, a Food Standards Agency survey revealed that four million UK adults said that they had experienced low or very low food security, meaning they had struggled to afford to eat healthily and, as a consequence, had skipped meals or reduced the quality of their diet.

Alison Tedstone, the chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “This report suggests £6 per day for an adult we are currently spending about the same amount eating poorly. Our food choices are affected by other factors such as the volume of fast-food outlets on our streets and promotions of unhealthy foods in our shops, highlighting why our work to improve the nation’s diet is so important.”

The Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, whochairs an parliamentary inquiry into child food poverty, said: “It cannot be right that 50% of households in the UK currently have insufficient food budgets to meet the government’s recommended Eatwell Guide.”

The independent Food Foundation thinktank was set up by the former Conservative MP Laura Sandys and counts the public health expert Sir Michael Marmot and the mayor of London’s food adviser, Rosie Boycott, among its trustees and advisors.

Case study

Joe Clarke, 19, student, Reading

“I spend less than five minutes preparing the few meals I know from scratch. If it takes longer than that I probably won’t bother. Takeaways are quick and easy. I’ll eat at least a couple per week to save time. Last night I ate a Domino’s [pizza] after going out, which is pretty standard practice for students. Most of my weekly budget seems to go on pizza and drinks. I’ll also buy lunch on campus if I’m in a rush.

“I’m a big fan of cooking shows like The Great British Bake Off. But I never watch a programme and think: ‘Oh, I’m going to cook that now.’ It’s just for entertainment.

“Tonight I’ll make a wrap, but nipping out to the local fast-food chicken place is always tempting. There are so many convenient fast-food places in Reading that it’s hard not to get involved. I usually spend about £30 per week food shopping, with a few ready meals thrown in. Other than that it’s lots of pasta dishes.

“But eating the odd meal out for a mate’s birthday and getting regular takeaways can easily add another £40 to my food bill. And that’s before I’ve even bought alcohol. Despite all this I rarely have a proper breakfast – it’s usually something quick, like a slice of toast. But I didn’t eat anything this morning because of early lectures.”

Nutritional Values of Fast Food vs. Home-Cooked Meals

If we compare fast food vs. home-cooked meals nutritional values, fast food is high in salt, artery-clogging cholesterol, and calories. A single meal at a fast food chain can cost you all the calories you consume in a day.

A person who prepares their own meals can reduce the amount of salt and fats added to recipes. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables can help fight off ailments and prevent type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

If time constraints prevent you from cooking at home, you can invest more time on a certain day and cook enough food to last for several meals. Eating leftovers is still better than calorie-dense and nutrient-deficit fast foods. Also, you should opt for fresh fruits at least once a day.

Another idea is to cook simple meals with whole grains and veggies that you can make in less than 15 minutes. For instance, you can cook oats in milk and have them with fresh fruits. Or, you can chop some veggies in advance and refrigerate them for the next day so you can cook them quickly.

How do fast food and processed foods affect the health of children?

Children who consume nutrient-rich diets have been found to perform better academically than those who are nutrient-deficient.

Well-fed children have been found to be:

Children are also developing habits and tastes that will affect them as they become adults. If kids eat fast foods often, it will harder for them to break those patterns later in life. And childhood eating habits have far-reaching consequences.

According to a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2009, eating candy and sweets in childhood is linked to later-life violence, drug use, and drug abuse more than any other parameter. It was found to be a more significant determinant even than being raised by a single parent or growing up in poverty.

And raising children on unhealthy foods doesn’t only impact their lives, but also the lives of their descendants. Dr. Fuhrman points out that when children eat unhealthy foods, they may be damaging their genes.

Rejuvenating Your Sense of Taste

According to Witherly, people can break the fast food, smushy, always-the-same habit. "I don't say get off salt and sugar cold turkey," he says. "But how about just getting off refined sugar, sucrose, and especially high-fructose corn syrup? These increase insulin and lead to fat storage."


Other suggestions to aid your sense of taste:

  • Don't give up carbs, but do stick with complex carbs like whole grains and beans.
  • Don't be afraid to use artificial sweeteners. They can increase endorphins.
  • Try to cut back on salt. At least don't salt before tasting. Or take the shaker off the table. In a week to a month, tops, your old level of saltiness will taste terrible to you.
  • Try salt substitutes such as Parmesan cheese, yeast extracts, or soy sauce.
  • The body craves variety fast food places don't have enough of it. Some people know the menu by heart. Try for high-volume foods, like salads, that fill you up with less calorie density.
  • Kick the saturated fat habit. Most commercial fries are sizzled in beef fat. Stick with olive oil, fish oils, and flax oils. These are less likely, Witherly says, to be stored as fat in the body.
  • And eat slowly. There is even a movement called Slow Food devoted to langorous eating.


One more tip: Skip the fast food and treat your sense of taste to a mozzarella-tomato-basil sandwich. Fields of greens are out there sipping on lavender tea in the sparkling sun. They are waiting for you.

"If only we could be transported to Paris," Pelchat says with a sigh.


SOURCES: Steven A. Witherly, PhD, president and CEO, Technical Products Inc., Valencia, Calif. Marcia Levin Pelchat, PhD, research scientist, Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia. Linda A. Bartoshuk, PhD, professor, Yale University. "Falling Out of Flavor," Karen Fernau, Arizona Republic, Sept. 8, 2004. Pediatrics, April 2004 vol 113.

5 Healthy Fast Food Alternatives

Oct. 19, 2013— -- intro: You probably saw the news last week about what's really in chicken nuggets. Researchers at University of Mississippi Medical Center performed what they called an "autopsy" of nuggets from two different national fast food chains and found that chicken meat was not the predominate component–in fact, fat made up an equal or greater portion of the nuggets, in addition to bone, nerve, and connective tissue.

Lovely, huh? If you're grossed out enough to say sayonara to fast food all together (virtual high five!), I have several still quick, but much healthier alternatives.

quicklist: 1category: Healthy Fast Food Alternativestitle: Supermarket smorgasbordurl: text: Grocery stores are generally in the same vicinity as fast food joints. So rather than pulling into a drive-through, pop into the supermarket and stroll through the express line. Most chains now have prepared food sections, with ready-to-eat options like chilled vegetable salads and grilled salmon. Other healthy items that don't require prep include baby carrots and hummus, mini bananas, and nuts.

quicklist: 2category: Healthy Fast Food Alternativestitle: Fast casualurl: text: The concept of fast casual is 'fresh food fast,' and establishments that fit the bill, including Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Pei Wei are popping up all over. Many of these restaurants serve up freshly prepared dishes, made-in-house, with ingredient lists that read like a recipe from a healthy cookbook. For example, the chicken at Chipotle is made from hormone and antibiotic free chicken, water, chipotle chili, rice bran oil, cumin, garlic, oregano, black pepper, and salt. (Note: according to the web site, some cities use soybean oil.)

To be sure of what you're getting, hop online, check out the nutrition facts, and always read ingredient lists. One of my favorite go-tos is a Chipotle salad, made with Romaine lettuce, fajita veggies, black beans, mild salsa, and guacamole. Super satisfying, and about as quick and clean as it gets.

quicklist: 3category: Healthy Fast Food Alternativestitle: Pack a mealurl: text: If you tend to be stuck with lesser-of-various-evil options, invest in an insulated lunch sack, and toss in a meal you can whip up in a jiffy. For example, in a sealable container, combine a few handfuls of veggies, like grape tomatoes, chopped red onion, baby spinach leaves, and sliced mushrooms, and a small scoop each of quinoa and chickpeas. Sprinkle with Italian herb seasoning, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, close the lid, give it a shake, and toss it in the bag. Easy peasy.

quicklist: 4category: Healthy Fast Food Alternativestitle: Whipped up optionsurl: text: Smoothies aren't just for breakfast. Whipping one up and taking it with you can be a great way to sidestep processed alternatives. For the best nutritional balance, and to stay full and satisfied, include a combination of good carbs, lean protein, and healthy fat.

Reach for: frozen fruit and a handful of leafy greens organic skim milk or almond milk and a plant-based protein powder like pea protein a dollop of almond butter and a small scoop of old fashioned rolled oats. To add flavor, aroma, and an extra dose of antioxidants, season your smoothie with spices, like cinnamon or ginger.

For convenience, make a few smoothies at a time, stock them in the freezer, then transfer to the fridge to thaw a bit before you head out the door.

quicklist: 5category: Healthy Fast Food Alternativestitle: Make ahead re-heatsurl: text: Many of my clients have time to cook on weekends, but not so much during the week. To resist the temptation to grab fast food or order take-out Monday through Friday, I recommend making "homemade frozen dinners" that can be re-heated when needed, from soup or chili to stuffed peppers. Simple stews are another great option.

For a single serving, sauté a few cups of veggies in a saucepan, in a little extra virgin olive oil, along with minced garlic and herbs. Add low sodium organic vegetable broth, bring to a quick boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add a small scoop of a healthy starch, like wild rice or cubed baked sweet potato, and a cooked lean protein, such as lentils, cubed chicken breast, or extra lean ground turkey. Ladle into a BPA free freezable container, and your future meal will be ready in minutes.

Why Choose Between a Cheeseburger or Pizza if You Don't Have To?

Pizza Hut Middle East/YouTube

In 2012, Pizza Hut Middle East invented a pizza most of us would have a hard time dreaming up. The Crown Crust Pizza came with mini cheeseburgers in the crust. This specialty item was part of a bigger effort to produce, "the most royal pizza ever."

Real Money: Fast Food Versus Home-Cooked Meals

Evelyn Molina of Miami has a confession to make: She eats out a lot.

Molina, who runs the mommy blog Mommy Mafia, is living life in the fast food lane. "I just feel like it takes so much time," Molina said about cooking dinner.

For her family, that means a lot of Chinese takeout for dinner and chicken fingers for her son Nick's lunchbox.

But constantly getting takeout food means spending lots of money. Molina and her husband, Nick, spend about $300 a week on fast food.

In fact, according to the new World News "Real Money" poll, two out of three people believe that they are spending too much on food. But is fast food really faster?

ABC News asked Bradley Herron, executive chef of The Genuine Hospitality Group and currently at the Miami hotspot Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, to cook up a little "Real Money" challenge.

Herron whipped up dinner with Evelyn Molina while ABC News hit the Molinas' favorite drive-thru Pollo Tropical, three miles away with husband Nick Molina. The mission: Determine which is faster - home-cooked dinner or fast food.

While Evelyn Molina's husband ordered a full chicken and rice and beans, she and Herron cooked fish and vegetables. So who won?

Nick Molina clocked in at 31 minutes while Evelyn Molina clocked in at 22 minutes. And the cost: $22 for the drive-thru and $12 for the home-cooked meal.

"I underestimated the amount of time I actually spend to go pick something up. My mind said it was 15 minutes but really it was double that. And turns out I spent more money than they did," Nick Molina said.

Herron shared the following tips below:

Tip 1: Buy whole instead of pre-cut. Buying those premade bags of carrots can cost two to four times more.

"You're getting double for the same price," Herron said.

Tip 2: Buy in season.

Whether it's fruits or vegetables, "they are going to be cheaper because there are a lot of them," Herron told ABC News.

Tip 3: Download free coupon apps like Flipp and Ibotta.

Tip 4: Choose fast-cooking foods like grains.

"Grains are really small and they cook fast," Herron said.

Tip 5: Slice everything extra thin.

"By cutting it thin, it's going to cook quick," he said.

Tip 6: Cooking fresh is always faster than thawing frozen food.

Herron also said that you cut clean-up time by working closer to the sink and washing as you go.

By cutting their fast food habit by two dinners a week, the Molinas can save $2,227.68 this year!

"It was actually so easy that I could do it again," Evelyn Molina said. "I'm amazed. I'm really amazed."

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