UNC Study: Fast food not the major cause of rising childhood obesity rates

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Submitted: Wed, 01/15/2014 - 8:45pm
Updated: Wed, 01/15/2014 - 8:47pm

CHAPEL HILL, NC (NEWS RELEASE) — For several years, many have been quick to attribute rising fast-food consumption as the major factor causing rapid increases in childhood obesity. Now researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill report that fast-food consumption is simply a byproduct of a much bigger problem: poor all-day-long dietary habits that originate in children’s homes.

The study, led by Barry Popkin, W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of nutrition at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, found that children’s consumption of fast food is only a small part of a much more pervasive dietary pattern that is fostered at an early age by children’s parents and caregivers. The pattern includes few fruits and vegetables, relying instead on high amounts of processed food and sugar-sweetened beverages. These food choices also are reinforced in the meals students are offered at school.

“This is really what is driving children’s obesity,” said Popkin, whose work appears in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Eating fast foods is just one behavior that results from those bad habits. Just because children who eat more fast food are the most likely to become obese does not prove that calories from fast foods bear the brunt of the blame.”

The study looked at data acquired through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2007 and 2010. The researchers studied the dietary intake of 4,466 children between 2 and 18 years old and whether they ate at fast-food establishments or elsewhere. The children were further categorized as being nonconsumers of fast food (50 percent of the children), low consumers (less than or equal to 30 percent of calories from fast foods; 40 percent of the children) or high consumers (more than 30 percent of calories from fast foods; 10 percent of the children). The researchers then determined which factors were most related to dietary adequacy and risk for obesity.

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

Popkin said he is certainly no fan of fast-food consumption, but actually knowing where the problem originates is important if we are to invest in solutions that foster healthier habits, including reducing the consumption of sugary drinks and emphasizing more fresh vegetables and fruit.

“Children who rely on fast foods may tend to have parents who do not have the means, desire or time to purchase or prepare healthy foods at home,” Popkin said. “This is really what is driving children’s obesity and what needs to be addressed in any solution.”


  • Rusty says:

    I’ll stick to my meat, dairy (cheese) and occasional shellfish diet TY. You are welcome to my portions of rabbit food and the nutritional lack it can have.

  • Garyg562 says:

    Fast food is part of the problem. The main cause not only obesity, heart related problems and type 2 diabetes, is the consumption of MEAT, FISH & DAIRY! Plant-base food is the BEST dietary guidelines for this modern society and the world.

  • Timothy L. Wahl says:

    First, who underwrote this study. And second. . .duh. . . fast food and processed food at home are one in the same. The last time I set foot in McDonald’s or any of the other fast food eateries, about 15 years ago, their food was all processed and/or frozen. (ie. French fries, apple pie desserts). And besides, a lot of the food consumed at home is take out from one of these godforsaken places. Your study, at least what was presented to the public is skewed and misleading. There should be a disclaimer.

  • Guest350 says:

    One reason is kids don’t do anything any more but stare into some sort of screen, either texting or playing games. I was behind a school bus the other day in Leland on Old Mill Road. I think (not sure) it was bus # 275. It stopped and let 2 kids off at some sort of store, traveled no more than 150 feet and stopped again, discharging a plump little boy who could not walk the short distance. This happened twice, as I was behind the bus until it turned right near Navassa. Bus stops should be no closer than 1/4 mile apart. The schools need to do their part to encourage as much exercise as possible for these kids.

  • ireckon says:

    Last time I checked, kids were not driving themselves to McDonalds!

  • Wilmington Observer says:

    Each month the government sends out these little plastic foods that people use to buy food, at taypayer expense.

    Recently, I read a study that indicated that these government programs are not only growing faster than in years past but that the cards are used to purchase an unGodly amount of fast foods, soft drinks and “snack foods”. If I am going to be required to purchase someone elses groceries, I would prefer their food choices be limited to those that are as healthy as my own.

    Wilmington Observer

  • Guest2020 says:

    The cards shouldn’t be allowed for prepared foods. They should also limit what people can get at the grocery store. The cards should be for necessities and only allow for reasonably priced extras.

  • Rusty says:

    Oh my.. another finding that parents might have some bearing on their kid’s problems. I’m sure the liberal media will squash this ASAP.

  • chacoptaco says:

    just go to the supermarket and people buying cases and i mean cases and liters of soda. no nutrition whatsoever. we never had soda in our house growing up. water or juice. another factor is the price of food. good nutritious food is expensive. my friend was just saying this morning she used to spend anywhere from 100-125 a week for food. now 125 is the minimum.

  • jimmy rouse says:

    We are what we eat which explains why we ain’t much.

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