One group of researchers have good news for people concerned with the obesity national health crisis in the US. They report that the percentage of children eating fast food on any given day has fallen.
The study, published inJAMA Pediatrics, examines trends in children's calorie consumption by fast food restaurant type, utilizing data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2003-10.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third of adults in the US - around 78.6 million people - are obese. Despite this figure, the researchers state that levels of fast food consumption have recently decreased.
"The percentage of energy from fast foods consumed by US adults declined from 12.8% in 2007 to 2008 to 11.3% in 2009 to 2010," report the study authors.
However, it is currently unknown how children's fast food consumption has changed over the same period. "Other than analyses of menu offerings, there are no comparable data on fast food consumption by children," the authors write.
The CDC report that childhood obesity is a big problem in the US, with obesity rates more than doubling in children and quadrupling in adolescents over the past 30 years. Childhood obesity can have many negative health effects, both in the short- and long-term. Eating healthily is crucial to children for reducing their risk of becoming obese.
Overall though, the researchers found that the number of children aged 4-19 years consuming fast food on a given day fell from 38.8% in 2003-04 to 32.6% in 2009-10.
Additionally, the number of calories children consumed from burger, chicken and pizza fast food restaurants decreased during this period. The number of calories consumed from Mexican and sandwich fast food restaurants remained steady.
Study findings were 'consistent with published sales reports'
Data from the NHANES survey concerning the locations of origin for all foods and beverages were collected. The researchers based their analyses on the first 24 hour recall from four cycles of the survey: 2003-04, 2005-06, 2007-08 and 2009-10.
Numbers of children eating at burger restaurants also remained constant, though a modest drop was found by the researchers in the number of children eating at chicken and pizza restaurants. Specifically, while 12.2% of children obtained food and beverages from pizza restaurants in 2003-04, only 6.4% did in 2009-10.
"The present results were consistent with published sales reports," report the study authors. "The decline in total pizza sales from 2003 to 2010 has been noted by industry sources."
During the 8 years the study examined, no fast food market segment saw a significant increase in calorie consumption. Most of the overall reduction in calorie intake was accounted for by reductions in energy intake at burger and pizza restaurants.
"Analyses of population-based National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey dietary intakes data separated by [fast food restaurant] market segment should allow researchers to focus on children and other populations and can also be extended to monitor consumption for other dietary constituents of concern, including sodium, added sugars, and solid fats," the authors conclude.
The study was funded by a research grant from McDonald's Corporation to the University of Washington, Seattle.