Sure, take your family to a restaurant for a birthday celebration. But a new study confirms that eating in your own house is a far healthier choice for everyday life.
When kids dined at fast-food places instead of at home, they consumed 309 more calories each day when they were 12 to 19 years old and 126 more calories each day when they were 2 to 11 years old, according to a University of Illinois at Chicago study published online in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine today. When they ate at full-service restaurants, they still took in more daily calories — 267 more when they were 12 to 19 years old and 160 more when they were 2 to 11 years old.
These calories add up quickly for millions of U.S. children. Previously, UIC researchers found that 41 percent of adolescents consume fast food on any given day.
To find out more about how to turn a fast-food nation into a cooking-at-home nation, Family Goes Strong talked with Lisa Powell, professor of health policy and administration at the UIC School of Public Health and lead author of the study. Excerpts:
Some people may not be surprised that kids consume more sugar, fat, and calories when they eat out than when they eat at home. Why are these findings a big deal?
What this study does is really quantify the extent of the differences. They're taking in an extra 300 calories! They're really not reducing their non-restaurant intake sufficiently to compensate for the additional calories they take in when they consume from fast food. The adverse effects – the higher caloric intake, the fat – were worse for low-income children and adolescents. They're purchasing energy-dense, low-nutrient food for as little money as they can.
You found kids guzzling soda.
The evidence would suggest that refills are contributing to increased soda consumption. [Of the 309 extra calories teens consume on fast-food days, 163 of them are from pop.]
What should parents do?
Part of it is being aware that these types of consumption patterns really put kids and teens at increased risk for negative health outcomes. Of course, people will continue to eat out. The key is to make healthier choices.
Why are the extra calories such a big deal?
We weren't able to control for exercise. We only know what's been taken in, so we don't know energy out. [But] this evidence suggests this is potentially contributing to increases in weight gain unless youth were substantially increasing their physical activity to offset it.
How old are your own kids, and do they like eating out?
I have a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old. My girls are not fans of fast food, maybe because they don't eat there that often. If you eat a lot of high-sugar food, your taste budgets become desensitized.
But you think eating out occasionally is OK?
Going out and taking in a lot of calories and sugar and fat in moderation is perfectly fine. Everything in moderation is really the key. That's not, unfortunately, what is happening with consumption of eating way from home. It's gone from being a treat, when we were kids, to being almost the norm. Don't make it your norm.
For more stories about healthy families, read: