Posts Tagged ‘ fast food ’

Are Parents to Blame for Their Kids’ Obesity?

Monday, August 18th, 2014

A public service announcement (PSA) called “Rewind the Future,” launched as part of the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Strong4Life campaign, has garnered a lot of media attention—and considerable criticism—from health experts and parents alike. Although the PSA first surfaced in April 2012, it recently blew up on the internet, garnering an estimated six million views so far.

The PSA begins with a 32-year-old man named Jim who at 5’9” and 300 pounds is wheeled into a hospital while having a heart attack. After the doctor asks, “How the hell does this happen,” the video flashes backwards through the man’s life, attempting to illustrate how he got there. At various stages of Jim’s life, he’s shown eating ice cream and pancakes, being out of breath while playing with his kids or walking on a treadmill, hiding food in his room, playing video games, being rewarded candy by a teacher for earning good grades, being exposed to fast food by his parents (his dad orders pizza and his mom goes through a drive-thru), and acting up at meal time—and being pacified with French fries by his mother. The video ends with the message, “There’s still time to reverse the unhealthy habits our kids take into adulthood” and a link to the Strong4Life  website.

While the PSA has certainly sparked conversation, I was surprised when a Good Morning America poll inspired by the PSA revealed that eighty-one percent of viewers believe parents are to blame if their kids are obese. Only nineteen percent believe they are not. Although parents certainly play a major role in their children’s eating habits, I don’t believe pointing fingers and playing the blame game are the way to inspire meaningful change and better physical or psychological health in children. And while I appreciate the idea of prevention of obesity and its consequences, I don’t feel that blame and shame as suggested in this video are the answer.

Several experts have also spoken out against the PSA. In his recent blog post about the PSA, Yoni Freedhoff, MD, a family doctor and Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa refers to the PSA as “…everything that’s ugly about society’s attitudes towards weight boiled into a two-minute video treatise on how gluttony and sloth are to blame for obesity….oh, and add in lazy parents.” Although he agrees that parents have a role to play in all of this, he believes that fear and shame aren’t likely to get them there. He writes, “If guilt or shame had any lasting impact on weight or behavior, the world would be skinny, as guilt and shame are the two things that the world bends over backwards to ensure that people with weight never run short of.” Freedhoff also says that shaming the symptom without tackling the cause is likely only to add to the belief that fat shaming has a role to play in fixing the environment.

In another blog post, California-based registered dietitian nutritionist Aaron Flores wrote, “Just like many other ads, the sensational tone shames both parents and kids. It says nothing of the fact that health comes in different shapes and sizes. It makes it seem as if a parent makes one mistake feeding a child at an early age, they’ve doomed their child to an early death. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s this black and white thinking that leads us to think of foods as “good” or “bad” and lead to a life of dieting and binging.” Flores goes on to suggest that what parents need is to learn how to help children feel comfortable with all different kinds of foods and to nurture children’s self confidence with food and their body. He adds, “The last thing we need is to create environment that leads our children to hate their bodies, seek diets and (develop) unhealthy relationships with food.” Terrific points, no?

Although obesity, especially among children, is certainly something we all need to be concerned about and address, the findings of a recent study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University and published in American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggest that this video and others like it may not be the answer. The study found that stigmatizing obesity-related public health campaigns were no more likely to instill motivation for improving lifestyle behaviors among participants than campaigns that were more neutral.

As someone who always thinks you can attract more bees with honey, I, too, believe that rather than shocking or shaming parents, emphasizing what they can do more of—for example, offering more produce and cooking more at home, and choosing choose smaller portions while dining out—can empower them to feed their children better and help children actually eat better. It can also have a wonderful side effect of helping kids develop more healthful food, fitness and lifestyle behaviors they’ll carry with them as they increasingly make more decisions about what and how much to eat and move. Over time, this can help prevent many of the diet-related diseases many children, including those who are overweight, can develop as adults.

When asked about the rationale for the PSA, Stephanie Walsh, M.D., Medical Director, Strong4Life at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta wrote in an email, “The video was designed as part of a larger movement to empower parents” and to “remind parents of the power they have to influence their child’s health and help them to consider making small steps towards lifestyle change.” In response to criticisms that the video unfairly blames and shames parents, Dr. Walsh added, “This video was not designed to place the blame on parents or make people change; it was designed to make people consider making a change.” She also suggests that people must first realize the importance of changing a behavior before they actually make a change. Although she concedes that the video dramatizes the problem, she notes that the scenes depicting unhealthy habits are real examples of the struggles many of their patients and families face— reigning in screen time, motivating kids to be active and decreasing the amount of sugar their kids drink. She adds, “The video was designed to focus on behaviors that we, as parents, can control.”

What are your thoughts? Does this video go too far, or do you think it will inspire parents to help their kids eat and live better?

Image of mother and kids having a snack at a fast food restaurant via shutterstock.

Kids and Chronic Health Concerns
Kids and Chronic Health Concerns
Kids and Chronic Health Concerns

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Fast Food and Kids: How to Fit It In

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

If you and your kids frequent fast food restaurants—especially while traveling over the summer—Consumer Reports just released its latest fast food survey. In an update to its 2011 survey, Consumer Reports had more than half of its 32,405 subscribers rate 96,208 meals at 65 fast-food chains in America on variables including food quality and freshness and value. One of the key findings of the survey was that while consumers talk thin, they eat fat.

According to Consumer Reports, despite the fact that some fast food restaurants have made some strides when it comes to nutritious offerings, many aren’t biting. It’s true that many chains now offer nutritious options like salads and soups, have reduced sodium in their offerings (for example, Subway reports it has reduced sodium in some core menu items including low-fat sandwiches and subs by 15 to 28%), have added grilled choices, and now offer fruit and yogurt (instead of French fries and cookies) in kids’ meals. Some chains including Chipotle, Culver’s, and Panera have even begun to offer poultry raised without antibiotics. But despite an increase in nutritious fast food fare—64% of those surveyed said that the restaurant they ate at most recently offered enough healthy alternatives—only 1 in 5 said they think about the availability of healthy menu options when choosing a restaurant. That’s no real surprise, but troubling nonetheless since higher fast food intake seems to be associated with higher calorie intake and a less nutritious diet overall. And according to Consumer Reports, Americans spend more than more ever before—in excess of $680 billion—dining out.

But there’s some good news: while only 19% of those surveyed reported ordering a healthy meal during their most recent dining experience, 42% of women and 28% of men reported they ordered lower calorie fare when calorie and nutrition information was conspicuous at such restaurants.

While I agree that some healthy steps have been taken in recent years to improve the nutritional and overall quality of fast-food, healthy pickings remain slim. And unless parents and their children who frequent such restaurants demand or at the very least buy more healthful fare when it’s made available, little is likely to change. So as I inferred in a previous Scoop on Food post, fast food probably won’t be considered health food any time soon.

If you know fast food is and will continue to be part of your family’s diet, I’m not going to be the food police and tell you to forgo it altogether. But if you and your kids have fast food more than once-in-a-while, it’s important to at least become familiar with the menus at some of your favorite fast food outlets (fortunately, many are available online). Planning ahead and making mindful choices in moderate portions can help you and your kids fit in fast food without derailing an otherwise healthful diet.

Here are some tips adapted from Consumer Reports to help you move in a more healthful direction when you eat fast food:

  • If eating healthfully is a priority when you eat out, choose more often from sandwich shops, Asian, and Mexican restaurants instead of from pizza and burger chains.
  • Have it your way. Many chains will hold the mayonnaise or cheese, go easy on sauces, substitute skim milk for whole milk, or serve dressings on the side. This is especially true at sandwich shops.
  • Beware of certain words. Instead of buying foods that are battered, creamy, crispy, crusted, sautéed, or stuffed, choose items that are roasted, broiled, baked, grilled, charbroiled, steamed, poached, or blackened.
  • Don’t supersize unless you plan to feed your whole family. For example, choose a single patty instead of a double or triple, and choose small instead of medium or large items (especially for high calorie items like French fries).
  • Drink smart. Instead of soda, choose plain water or low- or nonfat milk.

How do you help your family fit in fast food without sabotaging your diets?

How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids

Image of cheeseburger and french fries via shutterstock.



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Do Fast-Food Ads Fail When it Comes to Healthy Foods?

Friday, April 4th, 2014

For many, it might seem that having fast food outlets offer—and then promote—more nutritious items are steps in a more healthful direction. As I covered in a recent Scoop on Food post, fast-food chains are increasingly (albeit sparingly) offering more healthful options. And McDonald’s recently agreed to promote and market water, milk, and juice instead of soda as the beverage in Happy Meals and to include fun messages about nutrition or well-being in all its advertising aimed at children. Despite these initiatives, there’s evidence that fast food giants are falling short when it comes to advertisements for healthy meals aimed at children.

In a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics, Dartmouth researchers sought to determine how children depicted images of healthy foods in television advertisements for kids’ meals by McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants. Ninety-nine kids between the ages of 3 and 7 were shown in sequence two still images of the milk and apple slices and were asked, “What do you see in this picture?”

Researchers found that only 52% and 70% of the children (mostly older children) correctly identified milk from the McDonald’s and Burger King images, respectively. Eighty percent of children correctly identified apples from the McDonald’s image while only 10% correctly identified apples from the Burger King image. Although French fries weren’t shown in either image, 80% of the children thought they saw French fries in the Burger King ad, while only 4% thought they saw French fries in the McDonald’s ad. The researchers concluded that of the 4 healthy food images shown to the children, only the depiction of apples by McDonald’s was communicated adequately. Younger kids had a harder time identifying milk and Burger King’s depiction of apple slices misled the children, although no federal or regulatory actions were taken to correct this.

According to “Fast Food FACTS 2013,” a report by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, while most restaurants offer healthier sides and beverages in their kids’ meals, they still have a long way to go to promote only healthier fast-food options to kids. The report encouraged fast food restaurants to stop marketing directly to children and teens to encourage consumption of unhealthy fast food. It also recommended that fast food companies limit advertising on children’s TV networks and third party kids’ websites to healthy kids’ meals only.

When asked if he supports marketing of healthy foods to children, James D. Sargent, co-author of the JAMA Pediatrics study, said, “Personally and professionally, as a pediatrician, I am against any marketing to children under the age of 12 years. Many children in that age range are unable to even grasp the concept that marketing is someone trying to sell them something. It is only at about age 12 that children are developmentally capable of understanding that companies pay marketing firms to design ads aimed at persuading them to buy a product, a message that they should view with a certain amount of skepticism. Prior to that age, any message aimed at selling products seems unethical to me.”

Although Sargent doubts that limits on food marketing aimed at children will be established in the near future, he believes that companies that decide to market to young children should be held to very high communications standards. At the very least, Sargent says they should “design and test their messages to ensure that they mainly communicate information about the product (not the premium) and that most children are receiving that message.” He adds, “If Burger King and McDonald’s agree to promote messages about healthy food, we should be able to show that children come away from the advertisements saying they saw healthy food.”

Some think children should not be targets when it comes to food marketing, period. In their post, The Dark Side of Marketing Healthy Foods to Children, Susan Linn, Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and Michele Simon, a public health attorney, argue against marketing food—healthy or not—to children to best protect them. They say, “By begging and pleading with the food industry to improve how it markets to children, instead of working to end food marketing to children entirely, we are continuing to endorse a failed system in which industry gets to set the rules, break them whenever it pleases, and then take credit for doing the right thing.”

What’s your opinion?

Image of McDonalds Drive-Thru via shutterstock.

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Traveling? Better Fast Food Options for Kids

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

If your seasonal plans include traveling by plane, train or automobile, it’s likely you and your kids will experience at least a few moments when you’re hungry but find that the pickings (let alone nutritious ones) are slim.

Of course it’s always wise to plan ahead and arm yourselves with at least a few smart, portable, non-perishable travel snacks to have in-between meals (or just in case). A few better bets include nuts and nut butters; unsweetened dried fruit; high fiber, lower sugar whole grain ready-to-eat cereals; whole grain crackers; and low sugar granola and snack bars. But when it’s time for a real meal—and for those times when you find fast food to be among the few (if any) options—how do you help your kids choose the most nutritious, energizing picks?

The following restaurants participate in the Kids LiveWell Program, a collaboration between Healthy Dining and the National Restaurant Association. The program works with restaurants to provide more menu options that emphasize lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy and that meet stringent nutritional criteria. Each full kids’ meal (includes an entrée, side option and beverage) includes items from at least 2 food groups and meets the following Healthy nutrition criteria defined by the Kids LiveWell Program: 600 calories or less; ≤35% of calories from total fat; ≤10% of calories from saturated fat; <0.5 grams trans fat (artificial trans fat only); ≤35% of calories from total sugars (added and naturally occurring); and ≤770 mg of sodium. Each side option must represent 1 food group and meets the following Kids LiveWell nutrition criteria: 200 calories or less; ≤35% of calories from total fat; ≤10% of calories from saturated fat; <0.5 grams artificial trans fat; ≤35% of calories from total sugars (added and naturally occurring); and ≤250 mg of sodium.

The good news is that dozens of chains including Wendy’s®, Burger King® and Au Bon Pain® participate. Here are some the better-for-you bets if these outlets are among your options:


  • Kids’ Meal that includes a Grilled Chicken Go Wrap served with Apple Slices and TruMoo Low Fat White Milk.
  • Kids Meal that includes a Kids’ Hamburger served with Apple Slices and TruMoo Low Fat White Milk.

Other side options available include Juicy Juice® Apple Juice and Nestle® Pure Life® Bottled Water.

You can learn more about Wendy’s nutrition here.

Burger King®:

  • Kids’ Meal Breakfast Oatmeal with BK® Fresh Apple Slices and Fat Free Milk
  • Kid’s Hamburger with BK® Fresh Apple Slices and Fat Free Milk

Other available side: Apple Juice

You can learn more about Burger King® menu items and nutrition here.

Au Bon Pain®:

  • Egg Whites and Cheddar Breakfast Sandwich

Other side options available include: Oatmeal, Fruit Cup, Grapes or Watermelon.

Visit the Au Bon Pain® menu here.

Although McDonald’s is not part of the Kids LiveWell Program, it recently announced (as I covered in a recent Scoop on Food post) it’ll offer a side salad, fruit or vegetable option in place of French fries in value meals and will promote and market water, milk, and juice instead of soda as the beverage in Happy Meals. Also notable is that Happy Meals now include apple slices. McDonald’s also offers some favorites under 400 calories. Options your kids might like include:

  • Fruit and Maple Oatmeal (I recommend asking for it made without brown sugar or light cream)
  • Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait—a  low fat vanilla yogurt layered with blueberries and strawberries and topped with granola.
  • Premium Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken, served with Newman’s Own® Low Fat Family Recipe Italian Dressing (You can save some fat and calories by using only a half packet of dressing).

Visit the McDonald’s® menu here.

Subway® offers Fresh Fit for KidsTM meals that pair Turkey Breast, Veggie Delight, Black Forest Ham or Roast Beef sandwiches with fresh apple slices and a 12-ounce bottle of low fat milk. They also offer 100% juices including apple and orange juice. There are also Fresh Fit® choices (options that can work for older kids with bigger appetites and adults) certified as heart healthy by the American Heart Association. You can see the Subway menu here.

Last but not least, there’s Dunkin Donuts®. Although pickings are indeed slim at the popular donut/bagel chain, Dunkin Donuts® may be (somewhat) worth the trip because of their DDSmart and Fewer Than 400 (calorie) options including:

  • Egg White Veggie Wake-Up Wrap
  • Egg & Cheese on English Muffin

You can see their complete menu here.

To make better fast food selections all around, you can download the Kids LiveWell App (it’s free) here. It features more than 4,000 menu items served at more than 60,000 participating restaurants across the country.

And for more tips to save money when you shop for healthier fast food, check out this video with Parents health director Kara Corridan.

What’s your favorite nutrient-packed (or at least not-so-bad-for-you) fast food meal?

Image of mother and son having a meal in the airplane while flying via

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Nutrient-Poor Food in Kids’ Diets: Where Does It Lurk?

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Although fast-food is often blamed for contributing tons of empty calories to kids’ diets, it’s just one source. A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reveals that while 34.6% of calories consumed by kids from fast-food restaurants (including pizza home delivery, restaurant food, and food from vending machines and sports/recreation facilities) did, in fact, come from solid fats and added sugars (collectively referred to as SoFAS), foods consumed from stores (including supermarkets, grocery stores, and convenience stores) and schools (including school cafeterias and child-care centers) were similar to fast foods in their SoFAS content, with SoFAS contributing 33.2% of calories from stores and 31.2% of calories from schools. These findings came from an analysis of national survey data of dietary intake collected between 1994 and 2010 from more than 22,000 children aged 2 to 18.

In another study published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the same researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill analyzed the dietary intake of more than 3,000 children aged 2 to 18 in 2009-2010. Similar to the findings from the 1994-2010 analysis, this study revealed that empty calories account for 35% of kids’ calories from fast-food restaurants, 33% of calories from stores, and 32% of calories from schools. Interestingly, store-bought foods contributed significantly more daily empty calories (an estimated 436 calories) from sugar and solid fat to kids’ diets than either school foods or fast foods. The researchers explained that the highest calorie load derived from store-bought foods was due to the fact that almost all kids reportedly consumed them daily, whereas only 32% or 24% reported they consumed fast food or school food, respectively, on any given day.

When they looked at the biggest contributors of empty calories in kids diets based on location, the researchers found the top sources derived from stores were sugar-sweetened beverages, grain desserts, and high-fat milk. High-fat milk, grain desserts, and pizza were the top empty calorie contributors at schools, and sugar-sweetened beverages, dairy desserts, French fries, and pizza were the top sources derived from fast-food restaurants.

According to the researchers, “Efforts to reduce children’s consumption of empty calories must be made across multiple locations—not just at fast-food restaurants, but also at stores and schools.” They also single out high-fat flavored milk, grain desserts, and pizza as foods—top contributors of empty calorie intake by kids when they’re at school—that should be targeted as the new federal nutrition standards for school meals are implemented.

To help kids eat better, it’s important for parents to empower them to make more healthful choices—especially because they increasingly make food choices on their own when they’re away from home. Teaching kids how to read food labels and to identify—and choose—appropriate food portions to meet, but not exceed, their needs can also help. It’s also important to teach kids which foods and beverages can be considered everyday foods or dietary staples, and which ones should be considered as occasional or once-in-a-while foods. Eating as a family at home more often, modeling healthy eating habits and food choices, and offering a variety of options prepared in an appealing way—and getting kids involved in grocery shopping, meal planning and food preparation or cooking often—can also help. Being exposed to nutritious foods and learning to prefer such foods, especially from an early age, can help them want to make better and more informed decisions down the road— whether they’re at school, at the deli, at a fast-food restaurant, or at a stadium to watch their favorite basketball team in action. Setting them up for success won’t guarantee they’ll always make the most nutritious choice, but it will point them in a more healthful direction.

How do you help your kids cut some empty calories from their diets?

Find healthy finger food recipes your tot will actually eat with our easy guide. Plus, learn how to make baby food right at home!

Image of happy lovely baby in shopping trolley via shutterstock.

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