Children and Teens Underestimate Fast Food Calories

counting the calories in fast foods

 The Journal of Obesity reported on recent studies demonstrating that few children and teens pay attention to the nutritional information, especially calories, listed on the menu when ordering in fast food restaurants. They also significantly underestimate the calories in the foods they order, often by 500 or more calories.

 Eating out, for many teens, is about eating what they want with no regard for the effect it has on their weight.

According to the Journal on Obesity, eating fast foods out on a regular basis is part of in the growing problem of obesity in the U.S. Mandatory labeling of calories in foods in restaurants has been proposed as one way to help people make healthier food choices.

New York City was the first city to implement a posting calories requirement in chain restaurants. Now calorie labeling is mandated nationally by the Affordable Care Act. The law requires restaurants with 20 or more locations nationwide to post the calories in each food item either on menu boards or printed menus.

Most of the children  and teens interviewed in the studies, that took place in Boston and in New York City, were not aware of how many calories they needed each day for a healthy diet and what foods were the best choices for meeting their daily intake of calories.

The answer is not that children and teens give  up the fun of eating out in a fast food restaurant, but rather they need to learn how to eat out and keep food choices in line with their calories for the day.

Occasionally eating out at fast food restaurants as a family can be a way to help young children learn about how to use the calorie labeling to make good meal choices. Ordering based on calories and the nutritional value of each food on the menu will hopefully have carry over value to when they are making those choices on their own,  as teens, and eating out with friends.

 Children and teens need to understand the relationship between the calories they consume every day and weight gain.

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Parents Underestimate the Calories in Fast Food Meals

At a recent meeting of the Obesity Society Jason Block, MD, of Harvard Medical School and fellow researchers reported that parents often underestimate the calories their school-age kids are consuming when they eat large meals at fast food restaurants.

caloriesAccording to the study, the average meal purchased  in four New England cities contained 733 calories, and 21% contained more than 1,000 calories, But the parents estimated an average of only 562 calories per meal, with 72% underestimating the actual content. “There was an association between larger meals and larger underestimations, which may hold some promise for menu labeling,” Dr. Block said. He noted that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that restaurants with 20 or more locations nationwide post calorie information on their menus.

The researchers found that only 15% of parents saw nutritional information in the restaurants and fewer still (4%) used that information when ordering. “So they may not use it even if it’s more accessible,” Block stated.

Last year at the society’s annual meeting, Dr Block reported that 80% of adolescents in Boston, Springfield, Mass., Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn., underestimated the amount of calories their fast food meals contained and 86% did not notice any nutritional information in the restaurants.

In the current study, Block and his colleagues visited 10 restaurants in each of the four cities… three McDonald’s, three Burger King, two Subway, one KFC, and one Wendy’s. Each restaurant was visited six times at dinnertime.

Those participating in the study included parents or legal guardians of children and teens, ages 3 to 15 (mean age 7.9). The analysis included 330 families, representing 45% of those who were approached.

Most of the children (57%) were overweight or obese. The sample was ethnically diverse — 33% black, 30% Hispanic, 19% white, 3% Asian, and 15% other or multiracial.

The researchers collected receipts when the parents left the restaurants and administered a short survey about the calorie content of the meal and awareness and use of the nutritional information. The actual calorie content of the meals was calculated using the receipts and information on the restaurants’ websites.

Many of the parents purchased large meals for their children and most underestimated the calorie content. Nearly one-quarter (24%) underestimated the calorie count by at least 500.

Those who underestimated the daily requirement tended to also underestimate the calories in a meal, a finding that “supports an anchoring statement on menus,” Block said. The federal regulations require that, in addition to calorie information, menus must include an anchoring statement describing the typical daily calorie requirement.

The study was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholars Seed Grant.

Source: The Obesity Society

 

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“Can Do” Kids to Appear in Programs to Prevent Obesity

Dear Parents,

I am writing to ask your input on story lines we are developing for programs for “Can Do” Street that combat obesity before it becomes an issue for a child, not after he or she develops a serious weight problem.

We want to begin our obesity prevention programs by targeting young children who are learning to make food choices based on what is prepared for them wherever they are at mealtime or snack time.

preventing obesityPlease share how you influence your child’s food choices, so that more often than not, he or she chooses healthy foods over high caloric and /or fatty foods.

What methods do you use for encouraging your child to make healthy choices when choosing from a restaurant menu or ordering in a fast food place?

Do you talk to you child about foods that are always good to eat and foods that need to be a sometime treat, not for every day?

Do you involve your child in meal prep and grocery shopping? If so, do you use this time to talk about how the foods you are buying or preparing will help them to grow strong and fit?

Please email me at jeanc@candostreet.com with what works for you.

If you have a particular area that you have dealt with successfully, such as a picky eater, please share how you have gotten them to make healthier food choices.

I look forward to hearing from you. I welcome any and all suggestions that can help with getting programs out there to prevent obesity.

Best,

Jean

 

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