Would You Like Fries With That?

There's a good chance kids (yes, pretty much all of them)  know this line all too well, and I suppose there's a reason why Ronald McDonald is one of the most recognizable characters - often times before a kid can even read. 

A new report from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics makes it clear just how much fast food our kids are consuming.  Over one-third of children and teens eat fast food on any given day, making up about 12% of their daily calories.  Not only that, about 12% of kids and teens eat more than 40% of their daily calories from fast food. 

We know that consumption of fast food has been linked to weight gain in adults, and has also been associated with higher caloric intake and poorer diet quality in children and adolescents. 
We also know that eating out often times means eating more.  A 2013 Harvard Health Letter tells us that eating out was associated with taking in as many as 160 extra calories daily for younger kids and as many as 310 calories daily for teens.

If we slice and dice the CDC data a little more, the findings get even more interesting.  Calories from fast food were higher in teens 12-19 than kids 2-11.  Perhaps they are taking themselves to these restaurants.  Perhaps they are just ordering more.  The researchers also found no real difference in caloric intake between boys and girls, poverty status or even weight status.  And if we look at race, non-Hispanic Asian children had markedly lower caloric intake from fast food compared to other groups. 

We might not think that walking into a fast food restaurant alone is a bad thing.  There are increasingly more healthy options, and kids' meals are more nutritious than they once were.  But that said, there are PLENTY of choices that will make our heart and blood pressure wish we went another route. 

Here are some choices, outlined by the same Harvard article.  Note the differences:

  • A Burger King Double Whopper has 830 calories and 50 grams of fat (17 grams of saturated fat, nearly the daily limit) while a hamburger has only 240 calories and 9g of fat (3.5 grams saturated).
  • An Angus Bacon and Cheeseburger at McDonalds has 790 calories and 39 grams of fat (18 grams saturated) while the Chipotle BBQ Snack Wrap has 250 calories and 8 grams of fat (3.5 grams saturated).
  • A Wendy’s medium fries delivers 420 calories with 21 grams of fat (14 grams saturated), while a garden salad is 210 calories and 13 grams of fat (only 2 grams saturated).

Clearly not all choices are created equal.  We probably don't walk into a Wendy's looking for a garden salad and a glass of water, but it's good to know the option is there.  And, of course, easier said than done to limit fast food when we're rushed and looking for something relatively cheap and easy.  All the more reason to take a close look at the nutritional content of what we're ordering - and of course, when we can, eat at home.