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Failure to try to help kids eat nutritious food is a form of abuse

Harold Mandel's picture
A kid eating a fattening donut

The obesity epidemic has hit a lot of kids. This has serious implications for the physical and emotional health of kids. Obese children have higher rates of diabetes and heart disease along with greater chances of being obese as adults. There are generally also emotional problems for kids who are obese. Fast food has often been pointed to as the primary cause of obesity in kids. Although clearly fast food should not be encouraged for children, this type of food has been found to be only one cause of obesity in children.

Although fast food consumption has been associated with adverse health outcomes, the relative contribution of fast food alone in comparison with the remainder of the diet to these associations has been unclear, reported the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public decided to compare the independent associations with being overweight or obese. They investigated dietary outcomes for fast food consumption in comparison with dietary patterns for the remainder of consumption.

The researchers found that half of U.S. children consumed fast food. 39.5 percent of the American kids were found to be low-consumers of fast food who derived less than or equal to 30 percent of their energy from fast food. 10.5 percent of the American kids were found to be high-consumers who derived greater than 30 percent of their energy from fast food. It was observed that consuming a Western dietary pattern for the remainder of consumption was more likely among fast food low-consumers and high-consumers than among nonconsumers of fast food.

The remainder of the diet in these kids was found to be independently associated with being overweight/obese, whereas this association was not found with fast food consumption. The remainder of diet had stronger associations with poor total consumption than did fast food consumption. The researchers concluded that outside the fast food restaurant, fast food consumers generally ate Western diets, which may have stronger associations with being overweight/obese and poor dietary outcomes than fast food consumption alone.

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The bottom line is the researchers concluded fast food not the major cause of rising childhood obesity rates, reports UNC Gllings School of Global Public Health. Over the years there has been a tendency by many people to jump to the conclusion that an increase of fast-food consumption is the major factor which has been causing alarmingly rapid increases in childhood obesity. However, this study has uncovered that fast-food consumption is actually a byproduct of a much more serious problem, which is poor all-day-long dietary habits which originate in children’s homes.

The researchers came to the conclusion that children’s consumption of fast food is only a small part of a much more pervasive unhealthy dietary pattern which is nurtured at an early age by children’s parents and caregivers. In this pervasive unhealthy dietary pattern kids are given few fruits and vegetables and rely instead on large amounts of processed food and sugar-sweetened beverages. These food choices also are unfortunately often reinforced in the meals which students are offered for consumption at school.

Barry Popkin, PhD, W.R. Kenan Jr., a professor of nutrition at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, has pointed out that it is these other unhealthy eating habits which are primarily behind childhood obesity. He notes that consuming fast foods is just one behavior which results from those bad eating habits. Simply because kids who eat more fast food are the most likely to become obese does not offer evidence that the calories from fast foods are primarily to blame.

Jennifer Poti, who is a doctoral candidate in UNC’s Department of Nutrition and co-author of the study, has said, “The study presented strong evidence that the children’s diet beyond fast- food consumption is more strongly linked to poor nutrition and obesity.” Poti stresses that while lowering fast-food consumption is important, the remainder of a child’s diet should not be overlooked.

I see the growing problem of obesity among kids around us all of the time. It is often shocking to see an obese child being served a large french fries and hot fudge sundea by the child's own parents. And while waiting in line at the supermarket I often see obese parents with their obese kids filling up their shopping carts with loads of sugared candy, sugared soda pop, cream pies and more fattening junk foods. Sometimes these parents do not have the financial means to invest in healthier food for their kids, in which cases that problem often seems to be associated with criminal like activity bordering on genocide of the poor by the wealthier establishment.

Insofar as dealing with parents who do have the means to encourage healthier eating habits for their kids and to prepare better food for them, but who do not take the time to do so, this appears to be a form of child abuse. It seems entirely possible that fast food itself is not the primary culprit. After all kids do often have the option of ordering fresh water, salads, and fresh fruit in many fast food places these days and they often are simply not encouraged to do so, reflecting bad all around dietary patterns for these kids. This problem is made worse by the fact that TV food and beverage adds directed at kids are often unhealthy, as I have reported upon in a separate article for EmaxHealth.