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Despite restaurant pledges, most children eat unhealthy items with fast-food meals

Zoom in font  Zoom out font Published: 2018-09-28  Views: 12
Core Tip: Seventy-four percent of kids receive unhealthy drinks or side items with their children's meals when they visit one of the four largest US restaurant chains – McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Subway – despite the restaurants' commitments to offer heal
Seventy-four percent of kids receive unhealthy drinks or side items with their children's meals when they visit one of the four largest US restaurant chains – McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Subway – despite the restaurants' commitments to offer healthier options with kids' meals. This finding is part of a new report on fast-food restaurant purchases for children, conducted by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.
 
The study surveyed approximately 800 parents in 2010, 2013 and 2016 about what they ordered for their 2- to 11-year-old child in the past week from one of the top four fast-food restaurants. 
 
Many fast-food restaurants still automatically provide sugary soft drinks and French fries with kids' meal orders, explaining why children continue to receive unhealthy options. Moreover, restaurants continue to widely promote their unhealthy options inside the restaurants on menu boards and signs, the study authors say. 
 
Healthier kids' meal sides and drinks available include fruit and yogurt and 100 percent juice, low-fat milk and water.
 
“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. 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,” says Jennifer Harris, Director of Marketing Initiatives for the UConn Rudd Center, and lead author of the report.
 
Since 2010, the four largest fast-food restaurant chains have pledged to offer healthier drinks and side options, and not list sugary soda as a kids' meal option on menu boards. 
 
However, a previous UConn Rudd Center study, conducted in 2016, found wide variation in how well individual restaurant locations implemented those commitments.
 
The study authors suggest that restaurants should automatically provide healthy drinks and sides as the default choices with kids' meals and point to the need for regulations that would mandate those policies. 
 
Subway is currently the only fast-food restaurant studied that voluntarily includes only healthier side and drink options with kids' meals in their restaurants nationwide.
 
The study also found children are eating fast food more often than they did in previous years. In 2016, 91 percent of parents reported purchasing lunch or dinner for their child in the past week at one of the four largest chains, up from 79 percent in 2010. Families most frequently visited McDonald's.
 
The study authors say low cost or increased value of fast-food meals, convenience and easy access, and a documented increase in fast-food advertising to children could account for the rise in consumption of fast food meals.
 
However, restaurants have a responsibility to make these affordable, convenient foods healthier. 
 
“Most fast-food meals – even kids' meals – have more fat, sugar and sodium than children need, and eating this kind of unhealthy food can have negative health consequences over time, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues,” says Harris.
 
According to Harris, fast-food companies have a substantial marketing opportunity to better promote the healthier options inside their restaurants, given parents' positive attitudes about kids' meal policies, and how often families are visiting these restaurants today.
 
“They should also make more meaningful changes on the menu. Fast-food restaurants have said they want to be part of the solution to childhood obesity. They can start by making the healthier drinks and sides the default options in kids' meals and introducing healthier kids' meal main dishes, which remain high in fat, sodium, and calories,” she concludes.
 
 
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