Fast Food Consumption Not a Major Cause For Rising Rate of Childhood Obesity

First Posted: Jan 16, 2014 08:48 AM EST

Study claims fast food consumption is not a major cause for rising rate of childhood obesity.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina, claims that fast food consumption is only part of, and a result, of general poor dietary habits that are encouraged by parents and caregivers. Several studies have attributed the growing rate of fast food consumption as a major risk factor for rise in childhood obesity. However, this study claims that fast food is not the culprit.

The study titled, "The association of fast food consumption with poor dietary outcomes and obesity among children: is it the fast food or the remainder of diet?" claims that fast food consumption originates in children's home and is a small factor of pervasive dietary patterns. This pattern includes intake of few vegetables and fruits, high amounts of processed food and artificially sweetened beverages. Also, meals offered at school reinforce these poor dietary habits.

"This is really what is driving children's obesity," said Barry Popkin, PhD, W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of nutrition at UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health, whose team led the study. "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."

For the study, researchers analyzed the data retrieved from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) during 2007-2010. The researchers evaluated the dietary intake of 4,466 students of age 2-18 years. They evaluated whether foods and beverages were taken from fast food establishments or elsewhere.

The children in the study were divided into three groups; the nonconsumers which included about 50 percent of the participants; the low consumers who got less than 30 percent of calories from junk food (40 percent of the children belonged to this group) and the high consumers who got more than 30 percent of calories from fast food.

Later the researchers determined the factors that were highly related to dietary adequacy and also triggered the risk of being overweight.

"The study presented strong evidence that the children's diet beyond fast- food consumption 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."

According to researchers, we might be able to tackle the problem of obesity better if we know its roots.

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

Reports, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state that childhood obesity has more than doubled in children, whereas in adolescents there is a three-fold increase in rates of obesity in past 30 years. Kids who are overweight or obese suffer a high risk for bone and joint problems. 

The finding is reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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