When parents know calorie counts, kids eat less fast food

Calorie counts appearing on fast-food menus could be beneficial to your child’s health.

Parents presented with fast-food calorie information averaged 102 fewer calories for their children compared to the group without the information, according to the study.

“I think our study supports the idea that providing parents with nutritional information gives them the tools to make a healthier choice,” says lead author Dr. Poonja Tandon of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development, Children’s Research Institute and Department of General Pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The study surveyed 99 parents of 3- to 6-year-olds with picture menus. Half the parents had calorie information per item, while the other half did not. No correlation was found between calories ordered and the frequency of fast-food dining.

“We know that fast-food consumption and childhood obesity are high and rising in our country,” says Tandon. “When families eat out, a missing piece of information is what is in the food they’re eating.”

Families may eat out because it’s convenient or cheap, but children consume almost twice as many calories eating food made outside the home, according to another study.

Increased calorie intake contributes to obesity, which can cause health problems like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the percentage of young people who are obese has about tripled since 1980.

Even small changes in calorie consumption could prevent extra weight gain and obesity in children, says Tandon.

She hopes more areas mandate nutritional information on fast-food menus. For locations without guidelines, Tandon says parents can lower children’s calorie intake by ordering smaller portion sizes and choosing water or milk over fountain drinks.

Some jurisdictions, like New York City, have mandated nutritional labeling laws, while the idea has been introduced in areas like Chicago. These laws require calorie information to be available when ordering, not online or on a poster.

Tandon says another potential benefit of requiring nutrition labeling is that restaurants might change their offerings. “They may start to offer healthier options even if individuals are not necessarily influenced to change their order.”

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