By Mary Elizabeth Dallas
While some fast food chains are required to provide calorie and other nutritional information to help customers make informed choices, kids who eat fast food at least twice a week are 50 percent less likely to use this information than kids who eat fast food less often, according to a new U.S. study.
Those most likely to use the calorie information are girls and children who are obese, said the researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The study was published online May 23 in the Journal of Public Health.
“Our findings are important given the high prevalence of obesity among youth and the adverse health effects associated with obesity,” study lead author Dr. Holly Wethington said in a journal news release. “It is encouraging that a large number of youth, particularly youth who are obese, reported using the calorie information.
“This may have potential to lead to improved food and beverage choices as a way to manage weight, although more research is needed to assess whether youth know how many calories they should consume in a day given their activity level,” added Wethington, of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.
Childhood obesity has tripled in recent decades, partly due to fast food that is higher in calories, salt, and fat than food prepared at home, the CDC researchers noted. In conducting the study, they analyzed mail surveys from 721 kids ranging in age from 9 to 18 years.
The survey, done in the fall of 2010, asked the children how often they ate fast food, and if they considered the calorie information on the menu. They were also asked if this information influenced their food choices. The researchers also considered the participants’ age, gender, height, and weight.
Fifty-six percent of those surveyed were boys, and while most of the children were a healthy weight, 13 percent were obese.
The survey revealed that 66 percent of the kids said they ate fast food once a week or less, and 34 percent reported eating fast food two or more times a week.
Forty-two percent of the kids said they considered the calorie information when making food choices; nearly 58 percent said they never used it, the survey found.
Girls were 80 percent more likely to consider calories than boys, and obese children were about 70 percent more likely to use calorie information.
Those eating fast food twice a week or more were 50 percent less likely to consider calorie counts than the kids who ate fast food less frequently, the investigators found.
The study authors suggested that public health and school officials could create educational programs designed to help young people understand calorie information so it can become a part of an overall weight management strategy.
“This welcome research adds to our understanding of young people and their food choices,” Lindsey Davies, president of the U.K. Faculty of Public Health, said in the news release. “It’s good news that some young people want to understand more about the food they’re eating and are using calorie information when they eat in fast food restaurants.”
However, to fight the obesity epidemic, Davies added that it’s important to know why young people choose to eat fast food so often. Legislators could help tackle the problem by banning trans fats, which have no nutritional value and can increase the risk for heart disease, she said.