High Rate of Fast Food Consumption Among Children ‘Surprising to See’

UCLA researchers yesterday released a study that shows poor eating habits among California children, including a dearth of fruits and vegetables in their diets and a glut of fast food in diets of children ages 2 to 5.

“There were several things in here that were surprising to us,” said Elaine Zahnd, senior research scientist at UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research. “For one, given that the data in several studies show soda [consumption] has been declining, it’s a bit surprising to see that fast food [consumption] is at such levels.”

The study’s findings include:

  • 60% of California children ages 2 to 5 had eaten fast food at least once the previous week;
  • 70% of Latino children in that same age range ate at a fast food restaurant in the previous week;
  • 29% of all California children ate two or more fast food meals during that week and about 10% of children in this age group ate three or more fast food meals during that time;
  • Young Asian children had the lowest consumption of fruits and vegetables; and  
  • Parents in low-income households were more likely to say they didn’t have much influence over their children’s eating habits.

The biggest concern to Zahnd is the Latino population, in part because they make up such a sizable percentage of the state’s population.

“Young Latino children are having at least one meal a week at fast food restaurants, and that’s the largest and growing group of children in California,” Zahnd said.

“As a researcher and a parent, you want to have children develop nutrition habits at a young age,” she said. “You want children to get used to eating foods at the farmer’s market, at the grocery store, to food made at home.”

Zahnd said the expected ban of trans fat by the FDA could go help reduce childhood obesity rates, but added that she doesn’t know of any California legislation planned for the next session to deal with this issue. “There isn’t much to do about this except through education,” she said.

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