December 15, 2016
2 min read

Many fast food options for children exceed calorie recommendations

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Despite an expert panel recommending that childrens’ fast food restaurant complete meals should not contain more than 600 calories, most individual items on the kids’ menus at restaurants exceed the suggested calorie count, according to research published in Nutrition Today. The calorie counts also exceed the recommendations of the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWellProgram, which also calls for a 600-calorie maximum per meal.

Researchers reported that with more than half of all food dollars, and nearly a third of all food calories, consumed away from home, these establishments may be partly to blame for childhood obesity

Deborah Cohen
Deborah A. Cohen

“People have a limited capacity to control how much they eat when they are served too much. These standards could be implemented in addition to or in lieu of calorie labeling and will make it much easier for people to control how much they eat,” Deborah A. Cohen, MD, MPH, senior scientist at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California, told Healio Family Medicine.

Researchers evaluated the calorie content for 2,271 food items from 200 restaurant chains in Menustat, and also for similar items in recipes published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for use in schools. They also polled 15 child nutrition experts, none of them from the restaurant or food industry, using the modified Delphi method to determine ideal portion size of various food categories based on total meals not exceeding 600 calories. Researchers aggregated the results, consulted with the panel, then reconciled the differences to come up with final recommendations.

According to researchers, of the 600 calories, a maximum of 300 calories should come from main dishes; 150 calories should come from soups, appetizers, snacks, and separately, vegetables and salads with added ingredients or sauces; 110 calories should come from unflavored milk and 100 calories should come from french fries. Fruits and vegetables without any added ingredients could be consumed as much as desired. Some of the top violators of the calorie guidelines included beverages and french fries, with each having 97% of the items tested exceeding the 600-calorie threshold, followed by pizza (85%), desserts (84%), and burgers (78%).

Cohen encouraged primary care physicians to talk to children’s parents about the risks eating many fast foods can pose. 

“Parents should be told that consumption of processed foods needs to be limited to avoid excess weight gain, but that parents should encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables without added sauces or sugar,” she said.

Cohen told Healio Family Medicine the findings of this study were forwarded onto the National Academy of Medicine in the hopes of standardizing portion sizes for these away from home meals.  – by Janel Miller

Disclosure: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.