Parents’ fast-food choices for children remain unhealthy despite healthy options

Photo of Jennifer Harris

Jennifer L. Harris

Although fast-food restaurants have attempted to offer healthier options for children, 74% of parents still purchase unhealthy drinks and sides for their children from these restaurants, according to a report issued by the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

“While most fast-food restaurants do have healthier kids’ meal drinks and sides available, many do little to make parents aware of the healthier options or to encourage parents to choose the healthier options instead of unhealthy ones,” Jennifer L. Harris, PhD, MBA, director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center and associate professor in allied health sciences at the University of Connecticut, said in a press release. “If restaurants are serious about children’s health, they will make the healthiest choice the easiest choice for parents and the most appealing choice for children.”

The researchers conducted online surveys in 2010, 2013 and 2016. Parents of children aged 2 to 11 years provided information on the specific menu items they bought from McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Subway.

The researchers noted that in the 2016 survey, KFC, Dairy Queen and Panera Bread were added to the four restaurant choices.

Harris and colleagues observed significant increases in fast-food consumption during the study, with 79% of parents in 2010 (n = 771), 83% of parents in 2013 (n = 835) and 91% of parents in 2016 (n = 871) purchasing meals for their children from these restaurants. The most commonly visited restaurant was McDonalds (80% of purchases in 2016). Of the original four restaurants included in the survey, parents went to an average of 2.4 per week in 2016. This number was significantly higher than the rate of 1.7 visits per week in 2010.

Infographic from Rudd Center

Source:Bill Kelly/Kelly Design Company (click to enlarge)

In the 3-year study period, 89% of Hispanic parents purchased meals from fast-food restaurants in the past week, followed by 85% of white non-Hispanic parents and 84% of black non-Hispanic parents.

“We know that fast food offers parents a convenient, affordable option for feeding their families, but restaurants have a responsibility to make these affordable, convenient foods healthier,” Harris said. “Most fast-food meals — even kids’ meals — have more fat, sugar and sodium than children need, and eating this kind of unhealthy food can have negative health consequences over time, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other health issues.”

Nearly half of parents in 2016 purchased only a kids’ meal from the menu without any additional menu items for their children. However, nearly 20% purchased an additional item. The researchers wrote that approximately one-third of parents who bought fast food for their child did not purchase kids’ meals for their children but regular menu items.

Of the parents surveyed in 2016, 59% chose a healthier drink option for their child, such as low-fat plain milk, 100% juice or plain water — a percentage that did not change significantly since 2010. These drinks were most likely to be purchased for a younger child. Half of parents bought a healthy side such as yogurt, apples or oranges for their child in 2016.

Harris told Infectious Diseases in Children that a further analysis revealed that only 26% of parents reported receiving only healthy drinks and only healthy sides with kids’ meals, leaving nearly three-fourths of parents providing unhealthy drinks and sides to their children.

“Fast-food restaurants have said they want to be part of the solution to childhood obesity,” Harris said. “They can start by making the healthier drinks and sides the default options in kids’ meals and introducing healthier kids’ meal main dishes, which remain high in fat, sodium and calories.” – by Katherine Bortz

Reference
:

Harris JL, et al. Rudd Report. Parents’ reports of fast-food purchases for their children: Have they improved? http://uconnruddcenter.org/files/272-10%20%20Healthier%20Kids’%20Meals%20Parent%20Survey%20Report_Release_8_31_18.pdf. Accessed September 26, 2018.

Disclosure: This study was supported by Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Photo of Jennifer Harris

Jennifer L. Harris

Although fast-food restaurants have attempted to offer healthier options for children, 74% of parents still purchase unhealthy drinks and sides for their children from these restaurants, according to a report issued by the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

“While most fast-food restaurants do have healthier kids’ meal drinks and sides available, many do little to make parents aware of the healthier options or to encourage parents to choose the healthier options instead of unhealthy ones,” Jennifer L. Harris, PhD, MBA, director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center and associate professor in allied health sciences at the University of Connecticut, said in a press release. “If restaurants are serious about children’s health, they will make the healthiest choice the easiest choice for parents and the most appealing choice for children.”

The researchers conducted online surveys in 2010, 2013 and 2016. Parents of children aged 2 to 11 years provided information on the specific menu items they bought from McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Subway.

The researchers noted that in the 2016 survey, KFC, Dairy Queen and Panera Bread were added to the four restaurant choices.

Harris and colleagues observed significant increases in fast-food consumption during the study, with 79% of parents in 2010 (n = 771), 83% of parents in 2013 (n = 835) and 91% of parents in 2016 (n = 871) purchasing meals for their children from these restaurants. The most commonly visited restaurant was McDonalds (80% of purchases in 2016). Of the original four restaurants included in the survey, parents went to an average of 2.4 per week in 2016. This number was significantly higher than the rate of 1.7 visits per week in 2010.

Infographic from Rudd Center

Source:Bill Kelly/Kelly Design Company (click to enlarge)

In the 3-year study period, 89% of Hispanic parents purchased meals from fast-food restaurants in the past week, followed by 85% of white non-Hispanic parents and 84% of black non-Hispanic parents.

“We know that fast food offers parents a convenient, affordable option for feeding their families, but restaurants have a responsibility to make these affordable, convenient foods healthier,” Harris said. “Most fast-food meals — even kids’ meals — have more fat, sugar and sodium than children need, and eating this kind of unhealthy food can have negative health consequences over time, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other health issues.”

Nearly half of parents in 2016 purchased only a kids’ meal from the menu without any additional menu items for their children. However, nearly 20% purchased an additional item. The researchers wrote that approximately one-third of parents who bought fast food for their child did not purchase kids’ meals for their children but regular menu items.

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Of the parents surveyed in 2016, 59% chose a healthier drink option for their child, such as low-fat plain milk, 100% juice or plain water — a percentage that did not change significantly since 2010. These drinks were most likely to be purchased for a younger child. Half of parents bought a healthy side such as yogurt, apples or oranges for their child in 2016.

Harris told Infectious Diseases in Children that a further analysis revealed that only 26% of parents reported receiving only healthy drinks and only healthy sides with kids’ meals, leaving nearly three-fourths of parents providing unhealthy drinks and sides to their children.

“Fast-food restaurants have said they want to be part of the solution to childhood obesity,” Harris said. “They can start by making the healthier drinks and sides the default options in kids’ meals and introducing healthier kids’ meal main dishes, which remain high in fat, sodium and calories.” – by Katherine Bortz

Reference
:

Harris JL, et al. Rudd Report. Parents’ reports of fast-food purchases for their children: Have they improved? http://uconnruddcenter.org/files/272-10%20%20Healthier%20Kids’%20Meals%20Parent%20Survey%20Report_Release_8_31_18.pdf. Accessed September 26, 2018.

Disclosure: This study was supported by Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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