Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
March/April 2003 Volume 13, Number 2
©2002 Gürze Books
We live in a fast-food world. In 1970, 25% of the money Americans spent on food went to meals eaten away from home. By 2010, it is estimated that 53% of each food dollar will be spent on food eaten away from home (National Restaurant Association, Restaurant Industry Pocket Facts Book; www.restaurant.org/store/C1660.html, 2000). Much of this money is spent on eating out. Fast-food outlets are especially popular among teens, who visit one an average of twice a week; fast-food restaurants now supply about one-third of the meals teens eat away from home.
Learning how teens eat out
To learn more about the impact of fast food on teens, Dr. S. A. French and epidemiologists at the University of Minnesota studied 4746 adolescent students from grades 7-12 at 31 secondary schools in a large metropolitan city (Int J Obesity 2001;25:1823). The ethnic makeup of the study was 48.5% Whites, 19.9% Blacks, 19.2% Asian Americans, 5.8% Hispanics, 3.5% American Indians, and 3.9% mixed or other ethnic groups.
Total energy and fat intake was higher in meals eaten out
The most striking finding of this study was a strong association between fast-food meals and nutrient intake. Teens who ate out at fast-food restaurants had a total energy intake 37% (females) to 40% (males) higher than teens who did not eat at fast-food restaurants during the past week. The percentage of energy from fat was 9% higher among males and 13% higher among females who reported making 3 or more visits to a fast-food restaurant during the past week than among teens who didn’t eat out at fast-food restaurants.
As might be expected, visits to fast-food restaurants were also tied to a significantly lower intake of fruit, vegetables, grains, and servings of milk, and to a significantly higher intake of soft drinks, cheeseburgers, pizza, and french fries.
The study yielded some additional interesting findings. For example, female adolescents in single-parent homes were more likely to visit fast-food restaurants than were girls from homes with two parents. Teens who worked 10 or more hours per week and males who were active in sports were also more likely to frequent fast-food restaurants.
In summary, fast foods were associated with poorer nutrition and poorer food choices among teens. According to Dr. French and colleagues, interventions to change this pattern or to improve the specific food selections made at fast-food restaurants may need to address the perceived convenience and importance of healthy eating among teens and their parents. For their part, fast-food restaurants could improve nutrition by providing labeling on fast-food packages, restricting portion sizes for higher-fat food choices, and promoting more healthful food choices by reducing their cost.