WASHINGTON – American families are eating more and more of their meals at chain restaurants. And it turns out, those meals may be playing a big role in the child obesity epidemic.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest — a non-profit consumer group — says almost all the kid meals offered by the big chains have far too much salt and fat. They also have far more calories than any child needs to consume in one sitting.
Working with a research team at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, CSPI looked at nearly 3,500 kid combos at 34 chains, using nutritional data provided by the restaurants.
Ninety-seven percent of the meals did not meet the nutrition standards set by a panel of nutrition and health experts, based in large part on recommendation put forward by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“One out of every three American children is either overweight or obese, but it is as if much of the restaurant industry didn’t get the memo,” says CSPI nutrition policy director Margo Wootan.
She says many of them are still serving up fried chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, pizza and hamburgers with a side order of fries, all accompanied by sugary sodas.
This is the second such survey conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. In 2008, 99 percent of the kids meals flunked the test.
Ameena Batada, who is with the Department of Health and Wellness at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, calls the level of improvement “disappointing.” The two studies — taken side-by-side — show there has been some progress, she says, but much more must be done.
Noah “Bingo” Gray, 13, of New Windsor, Md., knows the problem firsthand. He was one of the kids featured in the TV show “The Biggest Loser” during its last season.
Before he joined the show, he would eat out about five times a week, mostly at fast food restaurants.
“We would order a burger, large drinks, large fries,” Gray says adding, “Now it just seems insane because it is just way too many calories.”
Now a healthy, trim teen with a winning smile, he says, “You’ve got to be able to make good choices when you go out.”
Unfortunately, says CSPI’s Wooton, tracking down healthy meals for kids is like “finding a needle in a haystack.”
But there is one chain that did well in the nutritional survey of kids meals.
Subway’s Fresh Fit for Kids combos met 100 percent of the quality standards set by the panel of experts.