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Just How Much Fast Food Do Kids Really Eat Each Day?

The Short of It

According to a new report made public by the National Center for Health Statistics, about 34% of American kids ages 2 to 19 eat fast food on any given day, and those burgers, fries, pizza, and chicken nuggets account for 12% of their calories—not good news with childhood obesity on the rise.

The Lowdown

The report analyzed data from the 2011–2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), and found other interesting news about youth fast-food consumption, as well. For starters (and perhaps not surprisingly), 12- to 19-year-olds got a higher percentage of their daily calories from fast food (17%) in 2010-2011 than younger kids. (Children ages 2 to 11 years old consumed 9%.) Poverty and weight status didn't play a significant role in fast food consumption, and non-Hispanic Asian children and adolescents ate fewer fast food calories than kids and teens in the other race and Hispanic groups, according to the study's summary. "Previous studies have reported that acculturation to the U.S. lifestyle plays an important role in the adoption of unhealthy behaviors, such as fast food consumption, in Asian-American and other immigrant groups."

The Upshot

"Childhood is not a place where you can say, "'Let everyone eat what they want and we can fix it later,'" Sandra Hassink, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told USA Today. "Health doesn't happen by accident."

Most parents know that, of course, but knowing and doing aren't always the same thing. Sure, cutting out fast food is the healthier option, but sometimes it's the easiest dinner solution for tired, busy parents. Rather than quit fast food cold turkey, one option may be a weaning process, like limiting it to one trip a week or swapping fries for a healthier menu option. Still, these findings are eye-opening—and a good reminder that our kids need and deserve the healthiest food we can give them.

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