ALEXANDRIA, Va. – U.S. youngsters love to eat at fast-food restaurants, but most are not consuming the healthier options that many fast feeders offer, according to a report from CBS News.
A recent survey of 800 parents shows that in 2016, 91% reported purchasing lunch or dinner for their child within the past week at one of the four largest chains in the country: McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Subway. This figure is up from 79% in 2010.
Researchers from Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut believe that one reason families dine at fast-food restaurants more frequently is the restaurants’ claim that they’ve replaced the sugary soft drinks and greasy fries in kids’ meals with healthier foods, such as fruit and yogurt, 100% juice, low-fat milk and water.
However, once families are actually inside the restaurants, many kids end up eating the less-healthy options, with the healthier foods being ignored, the researchers found.
“Fast food is a major source of calories, sugar, fat and sodium in children’s diets and has negative effects on their health, so fast-food companies have come under a lot of pressure from public health advocates to improve the nutrition quality of their products, especially kids’ meals,” said Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives for the Rudd Center.
Past research from the center found that fast-food employees often provide the less-healthy sides and drinks automatically when a kids' meal is ordered, and they fail to mention the healthier options to customers.
“In many cases, parents aren’t being given the chance to make a decision; they are getting unhealthy sides and drinks automatically when they order a kids’ meal,” Harris said. “It should be the other way around.”
Research has shown that eating highly processed foods, such as those served in fast-food restaurants, has been linked to negative health issues, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and premature death.
The researchers argue that fast-food places should make it easier for parents to choose healthy foods for their kids.
“Parents should be given the healthy items automatically or given the choice of healthy items if more than one are available, and the unhealthy items should be the ones that they have to ask for specifically,” Harris said. “We know from the greater body of literature on choices, that to ‘nudge’ someone towards something healthier, making them ‘opt out’ is more difficult, and they often stick with the default.”