Over a third of kids and teens will likely eat fast food today

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Over a third of children and adolescents are eating fast food on a given day, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Previous research suggests that fast food intake is associated with higher calorie intake and poorer diet quality, which may increase their risk of weight gain. In adults, fast food intake is associated with weight gain according to a 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. And adults with excess body fat are at increased risk for many common cancers, including post-menopausal breast, colorectal and liver.

Using data from the 2011-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the report found that 34 percent of 2 to 19 year olds are eating fast food on any given day. And about one of ten kids is getting a quarter to 40 percent of their calories from fast foods.

Percentage of children and adolescents aged 2–19 years who consumed fast food on a given day, by calories consumed: United States, 2011–2012

SOURCE: CDC/NCHS, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011–2012.
SOURCE: CDC/NCHS, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011–2012.

Fast food calorie intake was two times higher in the teenagers and there was no difference between boys and girls in any age group. Here, the percent of calories from fast food did not differ by how much kids weigh.

These data suggests that kids’ and teens’ fast food consumption may mean increased risk of chronic disease later in life. Melissa Halas-Liang, registered dietitian and founder of SuperKidsNutrition.com says, “Parents don’t need to feel overwhelmed. They can take simple steps to choose healthier fast food items in a time crunch and make good choices that are fast and easy at home.”

When you need food fast, here are 3 things parents can do to make healthy choices:

  1. Have a healthy meal option ready in the freezer for last minute home cooked meal. Soups, chili, and even stir-fry dishes freeze great and mean dinner is just a microwave away.
  2. Canned foods can create a quick meal with minimal clean up. Try adding frozen veggies to a low sodium canned soup. Or try canned salmon or tuna with hummus and mayo served with whole grain crackers and baby carrots.
  3. If you do stop by a fast food restaurant look for healthier options. Choose baked or grilled over fried or crispy and opt for a baked potato or side salad over fries.

Melissa Halas-Liang, MA, RD is AICR’s partner in AICR’s Healthy Kids Today: Prevent Cancer Tomorrow. Visit AICR’s Healthy Kids page for more information on helping kids build healthy habits for lifelong cancer prevention.


Author: Samantha

Samantha Tryon MS, RD is a dietitian living in Washington, DC. Sam is a former high school teacher who is passionate about making science information accessible to the public and promoting healthy behaviors and a positive body image.

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