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Fast Food: A Symptom, Not The Cause Of Childhood Obesity

A new study looks at the availability of caloric information from fast food restaurants online.
jasonlam via Flickr, Creative Commons

It's easy to point the finger at fast food joints. A decade after the breakout documentary, Super Size Me, the cheap, un-nutritious, happy meal is a go-to candidate for public ire when it comes to childhood obesity.

But a new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina says that explanation might be too easy.

After studying nearly 5,000 children, the researchers say that fast food consumption may be indicative of dietary problems, but the greater concern lies in a child's broader diet, throughout the day.

"We found that eating an unhealthy dietary pattern for the rest of the day was more strongly associated with overweight obesity and having a poor diet quality than with the actual fast food itself," said Jennifer Poti, senior author of the paper.

So things like salty snacks or sugary drinks (items children can get at school or home) may actually be the greater concern.

What's more, a lot of kids are following these poor diets.

"We found that about 50 percent of the children in our study were consuming this western dietary pattern that was higher in sugary sweetened snacks and lower in vegetables and fruit," said Poti.

Poti said more work needs to be done to determine the problem might be alleviated - be it parental education or finding ways to get healthy foods to families who may not have time to cook them.

Eric Mennel prepares the afternoon/evening "drive time" newscast on WUNC. Previously, he was a producer for The Story with Dick Gordon. Eric has reported for All Things Considered, This American Life, 99% Invisible and other radio programs. He covered protests and security measures at the 2012 Republican National Convention for WUSF Tampa and NPR News. One day, he hopes to own a home with a wrap-around porch.
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