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Study Reports Fast Food does not Make Children Obese

Update Date: Jan 17, 2014 02:07 PM EST

Even though fast food can lead to childhood obesity, a new study is reporting that fast food options are not major contributors to this epidemic. The researchers from the University of North Carolina stated that if all the fast food places disappeared, children would still be overweight or obese due to the fact that they would replace fast food options with unhealthy snacking.

For this study headed by nutrition professor, Barry Popkin, the team examined the diets of 4,466 American children between the ages of two and 18. The information the researchers studied was collected by a national database on American's health and nutrition behaviors. The researchers separated the children based on two diets titled the western diet and the prudent diet. The first diet composed of non-fast-food items that were high in saturated fats and added sugars and the second diet was high in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and fewer amounts of saturated fat and added sugar.

The team then categorized the children based on their fast food consumption. The categories were nonconsumers, low consumers in which fast food made up of no more than 30 percent of daily caloric intake, and high consumers, which composed of children who got over 30 percent of their caloric intake from fast foods. The researchers found that children who ate a western diet and did not eat at fast food places had the highest levels of obesity. These children were also more likely to be overweight. The children who followed a prudent diet but were high consumers of fast food were still less likely to be overweight or obese.

The researchers calculated that low consumers of fast food were 1.5 times as likely to have a western diet in comparison to nonconsumers. For high consumers, the rate was 2.2 times as likely.

"Our findings suggest that the location where foods are obtained may not be as important as the nutritional quality of the foods consumed," the authors wrote reported by the Los Angeles Times. "The effect of public health efforts targeted at fast food restaurants may also be overestimated, such that these efforts may be necessary but not sufficient to reduce child obesity if the remainder of the diet is not addressed."

The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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