American children are still eating lots of fatty, fast food – and despite restaurants promises of healthy options, most kids are sticking with fries over salads.
Under pressure from health advocates and officials amid the growing childhood obesity crisis, infamous chains like McDonald’s and Wendy’s have vowed to offer healthier options, like fruit juices instead of sodas, on their kids’ menus.
But they aren’t all sticking it, according to a new report from the University of Connecticut.
In fact, nearly all parents are buying their kids at least one fast food meal a week – and a whopping 74 percent are eating unhealthy sides or sugary sodas.
Fast food restaurants now offer healthier sides and drinks on their kids’ menus, but fatty options like fries are still the default, and what more and more America children are eating
A third of children in the US are overweight and obese, and diets chocked-full of trans and saturated fats from fries and cheese burgers are not helping.
And research continues to further prove that poor eating habits and weights in childhood predict a lifetime of elevated risks for obesity, diabetes, heart disease nad even cancer.
Whole and healthy fruits and vegetables may be all the rage among adults, but parents who are often strapped for time – and cash – often still resort to quick meals for themselves and their kids.
It doesn’t look like fast food is going away any time soon.
According to the new report, 79 percent of parents surveyed in 2010 said they had bought at least one meal at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s or Subway in the last week.
By 2016, 91 percent of parents had driven through or stopped in to one of the top four spots to get their children lunch or dinner in the last week.
But all those fast food meals American kids are eating are at least supposed to come with slightly healthier options now.
As part of her former first lady Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move!’ campaign, she called upon restaurants to offer more nutritious sides and drinks with their kids’ meals in a 2010 speech to the National Restaurant Association.
The four major chains quickly piped up, promising to add drinks that were 100 percent fruit juice alongside sugary sodas and apple slices as an alternative to fries.
And at most restaurants, the options are there, but they are hardly the go-to option, the new survey found.
Scientists at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut surveyed about 800 parents in 2010, then again in 2013 and 2016.
Things have not improved much over the years.
Of the vast majority of parents that had made a trip to McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s or Subway in the last week, 74 percent ordered an unhealthy side or drink.
The older the child, the more likely their parents were to choose fries instead of a fruit, or a similarly less healthy menu item.
And about a third of parents ordered regular adult menu items for their two- to 11-year-old children, meaning these kids were often getting larger, less nutritious lunches and dinners.
Even as they introduced options like 100 percent fruit juices, low-fat milk and yogurt to their menus, some restaurants have also tacked on deserts and other calorie-heavy additions to their kids’ menu items.
So despite what’s now on offer, kids are getting equally or less nutritious meals.
This is mostly because fast food eateries still promote their signature, unhealthy options, and sides like fries remain the default.
‘While most fast-food restaurants do have healthier kids’ meal drinks and sides available, many do little to make parents aware of the healthier options or to encourage parents to choose the healthier options instead of unhealthy ones,’ said lead study author Jennifer Harris, a marketing researcher at the Rudd Center.
‘If restaurants are serious about children’s health, they will make the healthiest choice the easiest choice for parents and the most appealing choice for children,’ she added.