Food Consumed by Children in School Surprising High in Fat, Empty Calories

MedicalResearch.com Interview
Jennifer M. Poti
PhD Candidate, Nutritional Epidemiology
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings of the study?

Answer: Consumption of solid fat and added sugar (SoFAS) by children exceeds recommendations, but it was not known where kids obtain these “empty calories.” Analyzing data from over 22,000 US children, we found that children consumed about 1/3 of their calories as solid fat and added sugar for foods consumed from retail food stores (including grocery stores and supermarkets), schools, or fast food restaurants in 2009-2010, despite significant decreases from 1977 to 2010 at each location. These mean levels of empty calorie intake greatly exceeded recommended amounts not just for fast foods, but also for foods consumed from schools and from stores. For all survey years, foods consumed by children from schools were higher in solid fat content than foods obtained and consumed from retail food stores.

MedicalResearch.com: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Answer: In our study, milk consumed by children from schools was higher in total solid fat and added sugar content than milk consumed from stores, likely because of the shift to chocolate milk at schools. We also observed that French fries consumed by children from schools were higher in solid fat than store-bought versions, and pizza consumed from schools was not different than fast food pizza in SoFAS content.

MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Answer: While fast foods are more widely recognized as having lower nutritional quality, foods from schools and supermarkets can also be large contributors to solid fat and added sugar consumption among children. Efforts to reduce children’s consumption of empty calories should be made at all locations, not just fast food restaurants.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Answer: Further studies are needed to determine whether declines in solid fat and added sugar by children are driven by product reformulations by food manufacturers, changes in availability of products with lower SoFAS content, or shifts in consumers’ choices. Future research should evaluate changes in SoFAS consumption as schools implement new nutrition standards for school meals and competitive foods, food manufacturers and retailers carry out their commitments to improve nutritional quality of store-bought foods, and menu-board labeling at fast food restaurants becomes mandatory.

Citation:

Poti JM, Slining MM, Popkin BM. Solid fat and added sugar intake among U.S. children: the role of stores, schools, and fast food, 1994-2010. Am J Prev Med 2013;45(5):551-9.

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