Does Eating Fast Food Lead to Childhood Obesity?

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Does Eating Fast Food Lead to Childhood Obesity?
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Does Eating Fast Food Lead to Childhood Obesity?

Does eating fast food lead to childhood obesity? Not necessarily, say researchers from the University of North Carolina. Read on to discover what and who they say is really to blame.

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A recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that overall dietary pattern rather than fast food consumption may be more responsible for obesity.

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The study analyzed the dietary intake of nearly 4,500 children for fast food consumption, dietary adequacy and the prevalence of obesity.

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Children were categorized as nonconsumers of fast food, low consumers (where 30 percent or less of calories are from fast food) and high consumers (more than 30 percent of calories from fast food). Researchers also looked at what children were eating outside of fast food.

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Children that ate the most fast food had the least nutritious diets at home and elsewhere. When fast food formed a large part of the diet, researchers found children ate less dairy, fruit and vegetables and more sugary beverages (labeled a “Western” diet) in their overall diet.

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Those who ate more fast food tended to be overweight or obese. However, when scientists factored in the rest of a child’s diet, this finding was no longer statistically significant.

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On the other hand, when scientists adjusted for fast food consumption, they found the association between a Western diet and obesity held strong.

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“The study presented strong evidence that the children’s diet beyond fast food consumption is more strongly linked to poor nutrition and obesity,” reveals Jennifer Poti, UNC Department of Nutrition researcher and co-author of the study.

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“While reducing fast-food intake is important, the rest of a child's diet should not be overlooked,” Poti stresses.

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The study also brings up a larger discussion of the role of parents and caregivers in their children’s nutrition.

“Children who rely on fast foods may tend to have parents who do not have the means, desire or time to purchase or prepare healthy foods at home,” says Barry Popkin, lead researcher of the study. “This is really what is driving children’s obesity and what needs to be addressed in any solution.”

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Childhood obesity continues to be a serious problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years. More than 30 percent of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2010.

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of being overweight of obese adults, and that chance increases to 80 percent if at least one parent is overweight or obese.

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Recent trends in child eating habits include eating more food away from home, drinking more sugar-sweetened drinks and snacking more often. In addition, fewer children are eating breakfast and portion sizes are increasing.

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Nearly 80 percent of young people do not eat the recommended five or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day. About half the time, vegetable servings were found to be fried potatoes.

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However, there’s some good news – recent studies show that the rate of childhood obesity has been leveling off in recent years, and in some states there has even been a slight decline in obesity among low-income preschoolers.

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Fast food is still a part of the problem of childhood obesity. CBS News reports that nearly one-third of children ages 4 to 19 consume fast food each day, which amounts to about six pounds of yearly weight gain per child.

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Looking for helpful tips to encourage healthy childhood eating habits? Read on to discover three easy tips.

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1. Eat family-style.

A recent study suggests that passing food around the dinner table, allowing kids to serve themselves, develops good eating habits and helps them practice portion control.

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2. Don't force kids to eat foods.

Children forced to eat food they are adverse to are less likely to consume that food later in life, one study finds. Experts suggest parents ask "Are you full?" rather than "Are you done?" so they can learn to listen to their hunger satiety signals.

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3. Be a role model.

Kids observe and mimic eating habits from their parents, so it's important for parents to exercise healthy habits.

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Does eating fast food lead to childhood obesity? Not necessarily, say researchers from the University of North Carolina. In fact, the problem may be closer to home than you think.

Among children consuming fast foods, overall dietary pattern, rather than fast food consumption, may be more responsible for obesity, according to a recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. When researchers studied children's diets outside of fast food meals, they found that a diet low in dairy, fruit and vegetables and high in sugar-sweetened beverages was a stronger indicator for obesity in kids.

In other words, the poor eating habits of children at home could be what is really driving childhood obesity.

Check out the slideshow above to discover more surprising details plus who researchers say is really to blame.

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