A new study has found a direct link between eating takeout meals and higher fat intake by children.
The study, published earlier this year, looked at data on 1,948 children who were either nine- or 10-year-olds. Of the participants, 499 (26 percent) never or headly ever consumed a takeout meal; 894 (46 percent) did so less than once a week and 555 (28 percent) did so at least once a week.
Higher Intakes of Fat
The study, published in BMJ, shows that eating takeout meals more than once a week was associated with higher intakes of fat energy, saturated fat, and lower intake of protein and micronutrients.
Children who reported consuming high amounts of takeout food also had higher levels of LDL cholesterol and a higher fat mass index.
“More frequent takeaway meal consumption in children was associated with unhealthy dietary nutrient intake patterns and potentially with adverse longer-term consequences for obesity and coronary heart disease risk,” the study authors wrote.
The authors noted that observational evidence had already suggested that adults who regularly eat takeout have certain health problems, such as increased type 2 diabetes, but noted no studies had been done on children.
“Efforts to reduce takeaway meal consumption in children could have both short-term and long-term health benefits,” the authors concluded.
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Jennifer Hyland, RD, of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, who was not involved in the study, said that takeout meals typically have higher amounts of unhealthy ingredients while lacking healthy components that both children and adults need.
“They don’t have adequate vitamins and minerals,” she said. “They don’t have the fiber, micronutrients or the protein that these kids need.”
She said it’s not realistic for families to never eat out or grab takeout meals but provided recommendations for how to make meals healthier.
For instance, with hamburger meals, Hyland said that families should swap out the typical side of french fries with a side salad. They could also swap the ground beef for grilled chicken.
Parents can also ask for condiments and dipping sauces on the side so they can control how much their children consume.
If the restaurant doesn’t have a vegetable option, Hyland recommends feeding the children a vegetable snack later at home.
“We want to instill healthy life-long behaviors in these children,” she said. “If you’re teaching your kids that you’re just going to get a quick and easy takeout meal every day—that’s what they’re going to expect as they get older and then when they’re teenagers and they’re making their own decisions, unfortunately, that’s what they’re going to decide.”