Nutrition: Children and Fast Food


SuperSize Me became a smash hit at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival by exposing fast-food mania in America.  The producer decided to make himself a guinea pig and run an experiment, which he filmed.  Under the supervision of three doctors, he started eating only items on the McDonald’s menu, three times a day, every day for an entire month; and if an employee asked him to “supersize” anything, he did.  In only thirty days his blood pressure and cholesterol level skyrocketed; he suffered liver damage; came down with headaches and depression; gained twenty pounds; reportedly lost his libido; and felt chest pains.

Unfortunately this damage is repeated in a stunning percentage of our children–and the consequences will be no less devastating.  Almost one-third of American kids aged four to nineteen will eat today at a fast-food place, a fivefold increase since 1970.  On average they will eat 187 more calories per day than those who refrain from fast food, and they will ingest more fats, sugars, and carbohydrates.  As a result, they will pack on about an extra six pounds per year, according to one study.  Some researchers contend that eating fast foods can become addictive.  “New and potentially explosive findings on the biological effects of fast food suggest that eating yourself into obesity isn’t simply down to a lack of self-control,”  said one scientist.  As body fat increases, people appear to become increasingly insensitive to hormones that help to control their eating.  The more fast food you eat, the less you may feel like you’re eating.

On average we eat almost three hundred calories more per day and burn about three hundred calories less a day than we did twenty years ago.  And where do those six hundred extra calories go?  Our bodies store them as fat.  When you consider that an additional one hundred calories a day can mean an extra ten pounds a year, it’s not hard to see how our kids can so easily gain an unhealthful thirty pounds or more!  A 2003 report in the Journal of the American Medical Associationshowed how the obesity epidemic has coincided with a marked increase in food portion sizes, particularly in fast-food restaurants.  These days a single fast-food meal can amount to an entire day’s caloric intake for an adult–and for children that same meal could translate to two days’ worth of calories.

Consider this:

The serving size of an average soft drink increased from 13 ounces (144 calories) in 1977 to almost 20 ounces (with fifteen teaspoons of sugar and 250 calories) in 1998.

Cheeseburgers grew from 5.8 ounces  (397 calories) in 1977 to 7.3 ounces (533 calories) in 1998.

Go back a little further in time, and you’ll see an ever greater size disparity.  In 1900, the average Hershey bar came in a 2-ounce package (297 calories); by 2004 it had grown to 7 ounces (1,000 calories).  In the 1950s moviegoers could buy about a 3-cup serving of popcorn (174 calories); by 2004 they were gobbling a 21-cup heavily buttered serving (1,700 calories).  In 1955 patrons got a 2.4-ounce serving of McDonald’s fries (210 calories); in 2004 this had jumped to 7 ounces (610 calories).

It ought to shock us to see just how big portion sizes have grown.  Is it any wonder our kids are getting bigger?

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