Fast food not the major cause of rising childhood obesity rates, study finds

For several years, many have been quick to attribute rising fast-food consumption as the major factor causing rapid increases in childhood obesity. Now researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill report that fast-food consumption is simply a byproduct of a much bigger problem: poor all-day-long dietary habits that originate in children's homes.

The study, led by Barry Popkin, W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of nutrition at UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health, found that 's consumption of is only a small part of a much more pervasive dietary pattern that is fostered at an early age by children's parents and caregivers. The pattern includes few fruits and vegetables, relying instead on high amounts of and sugar-sweetened beverages. These food choices also are reinforced in the meals students are offered at school.

"This is really what is driving children's obesity," said Popkin, whose work appears in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. "Eating fast foods is just one behavior that results from those bad habits. Just because children who eat more fast food are the most likely to become obese does not prove that calories from fast foods bear the brunt of the blame."

The study looked at data acquired through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2007 and 2010. The researchers studied the dietary intake of 4,466 children between 2 and 18 years old and whether they ate at fast-food establishments or elsewhere. The children were further categorized as being nonconsumers of fast food (50 percent of the children), low consumers (less than or equal to 30 percent of calories from fast foods; 40 percent of the children) or high consumers (more than 30 percent of calories from fast foods; 10 percent of the children). The researchers then determined which factors were most related to dietary adequacy and risk for obesity.

"The study presented strong evidence that the children's diet beyond fast- is more strongly linked to poor nutrition and obesity," said Jennifer Poti, doctoral candidate in UNC's Department of Nutrition and co-author of the study. "While reducing fast-food intake is important, the rest of a child's diet should not be overlooked."

Popkin said he is certainly no fan of fast-food consumption, but actually knowing where the problem originates is important if we are to invest in solutions that foster healthier habits, including reducing the consumption of sugary drinks and emphasizing more fresh vegetables and fruit.

"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," Popkin said. "This is really what is driving children's obesity and what needs to be addressed in any solution."

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Jan 15, 2014
The pattern includes few fruits and vegetables, relying instead on high amounts of processed food and sugar-sweetened beverages. These food choices also are reinforced in the meals students are offered at school.

I'm 33 yrs old and I don't eat most fruits simply because they make me gag. I eat bananas and tomatos, but that's about it. The after-taste from stuff like oranges and apples annoys me, almost to the point of pain.

I eat a lot of vegetables though, much more than when I was a kid; brocolli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, greens, spinach, (tomato is technically a fruit, but wtf, list it as a veggie since it is usally used as a veggie,) carrots, (sweet)potato, all fresh.

I've found weight gain doesn't even necessarily relate to what you eat or drink, nor how much of it you eat or drink.

I quit sodas a few months ago, replaced with fruit juice/punches as mentioned, and this cut down my craving for drink and theoretically calories. Yet I've gained 5 lbs since then.

Jan 15, 2014
Now to clarify, according to the labels, the fruit juice has half the calories per serving/unit volume, and I deinitely end up drinking less of it as well since it doesn't produce cravings, which should save at least 100 to 200 calories per day, yet "somehow" I gained 5 lbs within about a month. This with me eating almost no fast food during that time; once per week, instead of 3 or 4 times per week like it was a year or two ago. In fact, I weigh more now than what I did when I was eating the most fast food that often.

I do have a weird eating behavior regarding vegetable soup. When I have that, it always seems like one bowl is never enough, and 2 bowls is never enough. Like all fresh ingredients, beef cubes, corn, green beans, carrot, potato, turnips, cabbage, tomato, etc, but when I eat it the only thing it does is make me crave more of it, as if I haven't eaten in a week.

I couldn't have been much worse off eating fast food. The only difference is home food is cheaper.

Jan 15, 2014
Dear diary ^^^^

You're fat because you have historically overeaten calories, just like everyone else. You gained 5lbs because you continued to do so, in spite of a change in dietary composition.

Jan 15, 2014
One of my children and I have a very similar body type (thin). My wife and another child have a different body type (overweight). We keep getting told you thing guys can eat as much as you want, while we can't. BUT what I have noticed with my family (and other thin/overweight people) is that while us thin guys at times pig out, the following days we eat hardly anything and food just isn't that appetizing. While the other larger people the day after they pig out, they eat normally.

Just an observation, too bad I don't have money to study this one....

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