Childhood obesity is a common problem in the US. One in three children has high cholesterol and almost 20% of children between the ages of 6 and 11 years are obese. This number has tripled since 1980. The risk of obesity in teens has quadrupled in the last 30 years. Obesity has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer and an early death.
Every parent needs to know the fast food industry and eating outside the home has grown dramatically in the last few decades. The US has almost one million restaurants and approximately 10,000 new restaurants are added each year. In the US about half a trillion dollars is spent every year by people who eat out and the fast food industry spends about 700 million dollars a year marketing directly to children through advertising and gifts given to children to entice a return for another children’s meal. Children and teens view between three and five fast food ads every day and 75% of these ads focus on unhealthy foods. The fast food industry is now pursuing social media as the new wave of influence to further expand the fast food market for children and teens using deceptive marketing and advertising.
What is the risk of fast food? Fast food choices are high in fat, carbohydrates and salt. The portions are large and sugar-laden drinks are encouraged. These factors lead to excess calorie intake and unhealthy weight gain.
Sugar-laden drinks provide liquid calories with minimal nutritional benefit and increase your child’s risk for obesity and diabetes. Many protein choices increase the risk for heart disease and stroke due to a waxy substance called cholesterol that clogs blood vessels. High fat cheeseburgers, unhealthy fried chicken or chicken nuggets and highly processed meats provide large amounts of saturated fat, low amounts of fiber and increase the risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Excess salt intake is another risk. Most food choices have a high sodium content which increases the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. They also increase the risk for certain types of cancer. Excessive intake of these types of foods increase your risk of premature death by 20%.
What is the best response for parents? Your best response is to eat outside of the home as little as possible and to choose wisely and healthier when you eat out. Know the calories and salt content of the foods you choose for and with your child. Remember to downsize the portion, skip the fries, choose your protein wisely, avoid the cheese and condiments and choose water or fat free milk.
Healthier fast food is possible but the best plan is to avoid fast food and plan ahead.