Whether fast food or full service, restaurants mean a poor diet for kids

Here’s a study result you might have seen coming: Children who eat at restaurants consume more calories and fat, regardless of whether those restaurants are fast food or full service, according to a new study published Monday in the medical journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Pediatric public health experts have long been concerned about kids’ love affair with fast food, which they say is a major contributor to our nation’s obesity epidemic. Children dine at fast-food restaurants far too often, they say, and when they do, they consume too many calories and drink too much sugary soda.

But the new study, which uses data from a large government survey of the eating habits of children, finds that both young children and adolescents also increase their intake of unhealthful food and drink when they go to full-service restaurants.

Going to a fast-food restaurant increased calorie intake by about 126 calories among 2- to 11-year-olds and by 309 calories among 12- to 19-year-olds. But eating at a full-service restaurant was roughly as bad, resulting in 160 extra calories for younger kids and 267 extra calories for older kids.

Kids who ate out also drank significantly more soda and consumed far more fat, regardless of whether the restaurant was fast food or full service. Making matters worse, kids who had fast food for dinner drank far more soda when they ate the food at the restaurant than when they brought it home — an obvious result of that ever-present refill machine.

In their report, the authors argue that restaurants are clearly responsible for making children less healthy and that government intervention will be required to improve the health effect of restaurants on children: “Public policies that aim to reduce restaurant consumption — such as increasing the relative costs of these purchases; limiting access through zoning, particularly around schools; limiting portion sizes; and limiting exposure to marketing — deserve serious consideration.”

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