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Encourage Children to Eat at Home for Lower Calories and Higher Nutrient Intake: Study

Update Date: Nov 06, 2012 06:31 AM EST

Meals cooked at home are the best, for they are low on calories and high in their nutrient content. A new study reveals that those eating food outside tend to consume more calories than those who stick to home-cooked food. Since children and adolescents, compared to adults, are more likely to eat outside at either fast food or full-service restaurants, they are more likely to have poorer nutrient-intake, a new study suggests.  

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago in their study examined calorie intake, diet quality and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, particularly soda, on days when youngsters ate out as compared to days they did not.

For the research, scientists analyzed data from the three waves of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for the years between 2003 and 2008. It included details of 4,717 children aged between two and 11, apart from data of 4,699 adolescents aged between 12 and 19, Medical Xpress reported.

The study findings revealed that on the days when youngsters ate from restaurants, their diet was high in sugar, total fat, saturated fat and sodium and they consumed double the amount of soda.

"We attribute that to the free refills," said lead author of the study, Lisa Powell, professor of health policy and administration in the UIC School of Public Health.

Also, it was found that on such days, their milk intake was much lesser.

In their previous studies, Powell and colleagues had found that on a given day, 41 percent of adolescents consume fast food and consume an average of about 1,000 calories. One-third of children aged between two and 11 consume fast food on a given day.

The current study reveals that on days when youngsters consume fast food, they have an additional 309 calories and small children have an additional 126 calories. This means that they don't cut down their non-restaurant food intake enough to compensate.

Taking food from full-service restaurants added to calorie intake by 267 in adolescents and 160 calories for children.

According to Powell, the problem is that there is frequent consumption of fast food in children.

Restricting the food intake from restaurants would help "improve diet outcomes among children and youth," she said.

She added that in order "to improve the range of healthy food options available, in order to turn around the obesity trend," better nutritional standards are needed.  

The effect of fast food intake is even worse in children belonging to lower-income groups.

"When lower-income youths are eating fast food, they are choosing more energy-dense, lower quality foods that tend to be higher in fats and sodium and can be purchased cheaply," said Powell, who conducts her research at UIC's Institute for Health Research and Policy. "They are not going to the fast-food restaurant and getting a salad or the healthier turkey sub with lots of veggies."

"We need an environment that promotes healthy rather than unhealthy food and beverage choices," Powell added.

The research was published online by Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

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