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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Washington Study Finds Percentage of Children Eating Fast Food Drops

A lower percentage of children are eating fast food on any given day, and calories consumed by children from burger, pizza and chicken fast-food restaurants also has dropped, according to research from the University of Washington School of Public Health.

Colin Rehm
[Photo: Dr. Colin Rehm]

The study was conducted by Dr. Colin D. Rehm, who earned his PhD in epidemiology at the University of Washington last year and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, and by Dr. Adam Drewnowski, professor of epidemiology and director of the School’s Center for Public Health Nutrition. They analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2003 to 2010 to examine trends in children’s calorie consumption by fast-food restaurant type.

The percentage of children consuming fast food on a given day dropped from 38.8 percent in 2003-2004 to 32.6 percent in 2009-2010, according to the study, published online by JAMA Pediatrics.

The authors also found calorie intake from burger, pizza and chicken fast food restaurant decreased, while calories consumed from Mexican and sandwich fast food restaurants remained constant. While the proportion of children eating at burger restaurants remained stable, there was a modest drop seen for chicken restaurants.

“We saw a decrease in the number of calories per eating occasion, which suggests that a combination of consumer behavior and changes made by the restaurants can actually impact diet and change the amount of calories people are consuming,” Dr. Rehm told TIME. “That’s promising. It means people are not unchangeable.”

A decrease in calories consumed at pizza restaurants may have been driven in part by a decrease in the number of consumers, because a decline in pizza sales from 2003 to 2010 has been noted by industry sources, according to the study. While 12.2 percent of children obtained food and beverages from pizza restaurants in 2003-2004, that number dropped to 6.4 percent in 2009-2010.

“No fast food market segment experienced a significant increase in energy [calories] during the eight-year study,” the study concludes.