U.S. kids are eating more fast food these days despite widespread efforts to provide healthier options at home and at school as well as efforts to help them develop palates for healthy food.
The news comes via the results of a 2016 Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut survey of 800 parents. More than 90 percent of those surveyed reported purchasing food for their children from a major fast food chain such as McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, or Subway within the previous week. That figure is up 12 percent from surveys in 2010.
According to the study, parents say they're visiting these restaurants more often because they think they're making healthier choices for their kids, such as replacing sugary soft drinks with juice or milk, and swapping fries for fruit or yogurt. But the children are likely still being exposed to added sugars in yogurts, a recent study found. And a growing number of health experts say fruit juice can be just as unhealthy as soda. And despite what may be well-intended visits to the restaurants, parents are still often purchasing unhealthy food for their children once at the counters.
"Fast food is a major source of calories, sugar, fat, and sodium in children's diets and has negative effects on their health, so fast food companies have come under a lot of pressure from public health advocates to improve the nutrition quality of their products, especially kids' meals," the lead author of the report, Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives for the UConn Rudd Center, told CBS News. "They have responded by offering healthier side options in kids meals and the major restaurants that we studied have pledged to remove soda from their kids' meal menu boards."
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The Rudd Center also found that restaurants will default to the least healthy sides and drinks when kids meals are ordered, often without even offering the parents the option to choose healthier sides.
"In many cases, parents aren't being given the chance to make a decision, they are getting unhealthy sides and drinks automatically when they order a kids' meal," Harris said. "It should be the other way around."
Fast food has been linked to numerous health issues including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even some forms of cancer.
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