A study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine shows that children and adolescents may consume more calories and soda and have poorer nutrientintake on days they eat at either fast-food or full-service restaurants, as compared to days they eat meals at—or from—home.
The study is the first to look separately at fast-food and full-service restaurants. The researchers examined calorie intake, diet quality, and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, particularly soda, on days when kids ate out as compared to days they did not. They used data from the three waves of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for the years between 2003 and 2008, which included 4,717 children ages 2–11 and 4,699 adolescents ages 12–19.
The researchers found that at restaurants youths consumed higher amounts of sugar, total fat, saturated fat, and sodium. Take-out fared better in one regard—the researchers found adolescents consumed twice as much soda when eating in the restaurant, as compared to when they ate the restaurant food at home. Children and adolescents also drank less milk on days when they ate at restaurants.
The study showed that on days when adolescents ate fast food, they consumed an additional 309 calories, suggesting they don’t reduce their non-restaurant food intake enough to compensate. Young children took in an additional 126 calories. Full-service dining caused increases of about 267 calories for teens and 160 calories for children.
The researchers also found fast food had even greater adverse effects on diet for lower-income children, potentially increasing health disparities. Lower-income teens who consumed fast food took in more sugar, total fat, saturated fat, and sodium than their higher-income peers.