Fast food restaurants are popular with young people especially with the attractive promotions through the use of toys or movie tie-ins.
Childhood overweight and obesity is a serious health problem in Malaysia and many other countries. With more family meals now eaten outside the home than ever before, the nutrient quality of childrens’ fast food meals have come under the spotlight. Fast food eaten outside the home is on average more energy-dense and less nutrient¬ dense than food prepared at home, so how do kids’ meals at fast food restaurants measure up? In other words fast foods contain more fat and sugar and are less nutritious.
A research study conducted in Houston, Texas (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008;88:1388-1395), examined the nutritional quality of meals specially marketed to children by major fast food companies.
The quality of each meal was assessed against government health and nutrition standards that were part of the criteria for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The NSLP guidelines set standards for minimum levels of a range of important nutrients, such as protein, calcium, iron and Vitamin C and the maximum level for kilojoules, fat and saturated fat.
Not surprisingly, the findings painted a grim picture of the current state of fast food offerings for children. Just 3% of meals assessed met all 7 of the NSLP criteria, and most of these meals were deli-based sandwich meals that included fruit as a side dish and milk as a beverage. Meals that didn’t meet the criteria had 50% more kilojoules per serve than meals that did, with extra fat and sugar being the main culprits.
Popular fast food restaurant meals promoted to children are rarely the best nutritional choice. Parents should encourage their children to reduce or completely avoid fast foods if they want their children to grow up healthy — without being obese and having to face the risks of many diseases related to obesity.