Role of Fast Food in Increasing Childhood Obesity (2023)

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Published: 11th Feb 2020

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The pandemic of childhood obesity is something that should be concerning to the individuals of our country as it is something that can be prevented. Within the last 3 decades, child obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents. In 1980, only about 7% of US children between the ages of 6 and 11 were obese, while in 2012 about 18% of them were. Similar results were seen in US children aged 12 to 19 years old, jumping from 5% to 21% during that same time. A person is considered overweight when they have excess body weight from fat, muscle, bone, or water for a certain height. A person who is considered obese has excess body fat (“Adolescent and School Health”, 2014). Caloric imbalance, which is when more calories are consumed than expended, contributes to obesity and can be affected by an assortment of behavioral, genetic, and environmental factors.

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Considered both an environmental and behavioral factor, the consumption of fast-food and convenience food contributes to higher obesity rates among children. The pace of the fast-food industry has only sped up in the past 30 years, as fast-food chains are rapidly multiplying and popping up faster than ever before on every street corner. They are known to serve calorie-dense foods which are high in salt and fat, and low in micronutrients (Fraser, Clarke, Cade, & Edwards, 2012). These extra calories consumed in addition to the sedentary lifestyles of many children create an “obesogenic environment.” Extra calories get stored as adipose fat and contribute greatly to obesity (Fraser et al., 2012). Today, over 50 million customers are served each and every day from more than 3,000 different fast-food restaurants across the country. Promotional activities sponsored by these fast-food restaurants often target vulnerable populations including families with children or of low socioeconomic status, and stress that their products are quick and inexpensive meal replacements (Newman, Howlett, & Burton, 2014). Like fast-food outlets, convenience stores are viewed as unhealthy since most of the products on their shelves are non-perishable and can last for long periods of time. The majority of the shelves in these types of stores are stocked with snacks and junk food. Seeing that portion sizes are significantly larger at fast-food and sit-down restaurants, they contain more calories and fat than meals prepared in the home would have (Lee, 2012). Many families opt for these alternatives because they do not have the time to cook a meal in the home or they are trying to save money and this is the only way they know how to.

Consuming fast-food and convenience food is unhealthy for people, especially children since their bodies are still growing and need essential nutrients for proper development. An additional 150 calories a day has been associated with children who choose to eat fast-food for one of their meals throughout the day (Lee, 2012). Extra calories get stored as adipose fat, which can lead to being overweight and becoming obese if not monitored closely. The negative effects are numerous and can last a lifetime. Immediate effects of childhood obesity include greater risk for cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, and developing asthma. Children can also develop sleep apnea and trigger the onset of early puberty by simply being overweight. This can cause a child to become self-conscious about their body image because they are developing faster than their peers. If not monitored before a child reaches adulthood, they have a greater risk of becoming obese as an adult, which can then lead to problems such as stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and a variety of different cancers (“Adolescent and School Health”, 2014).

The rate of childhood obesity is climbing in every country with rates around 10% for school-aged children from all over the world. This is concerning since it is known that obesity can stay with a child through adulthood and cause disease. The more accessible grocery stores and farmers markets are, the smaller the risk a person has at becoming obese. While on the opposite end, the more one is surrounded by fast-food and convenience stores the higher their weight status usually is. In 2009, a study performed on 1,669 children indicated that 23% of them were overweight or obese. Additional findings included body weight to be 1.3 kg lower, BMI 0.5 kg/m² lower, and body fat 1.1% lower in children who had access to supermarkets and food options than those who did not have this advantage (Jennings et al., 2011). Similar results were seen in another study that compared 72,900 children, from 17 different countries aged 6 to 7 years old. Twenty-three percent of the children said that they consumed fast food, while 4% of them said that they consume fast-food on a daily basis. The children who rarely came in contact with fast-food had an average BMI of 16.35, those who consumed fast-food once or twice a week had an average BMI of 16.5, and those who consumed fast-food daily had an average BMI of 16.57 (Braithwaite et al., 2014). Consumption of fast food only increases as a child gets older into their teen years. The more frequent fast-food is consumed, the higher a child’s BMI will be. Children are in a vulnerable state during their childhood, but also have an opportunity for extraordinary growth. It is important to nip these bad habits now, so they do not become the norm in the future. A study of 13 to 15 year olds in the United Kingdom showed associations between eating fast-food and the increase of body fat. Persons who ate fast-food typically had 2% more body fat and increased their odds of becoming obese by 23% (Fraser et al., 2012). Due to its expanding franchises, calorie dense products and large portion sizes, fast-food chains have become a major concern in several countries.

Another thing to consider is the location of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores in relation to the school and the home. At least one fast-food chain has been found within walking distance of about 37% of all schools around the country (Newman, Howlett, & Burton, 2014). Fewer servings of fruits and vegetables and increased servings of soda were seen in students who walked one half mile or less to a fast-food chain from school. The population of students who attended schools close to fast-food chains were more likely to be seen as overweight or obese than students who were not considered to be in that type of environment. In this study, the average BMI was 21.7 kg/m² for students aged at least 12.5 years old. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), this is considered to be in the healthy weight range. With only 55% of children attending a school within walking distance of a fast-food restaurant, 27.7% of the total sample was overweight and 12% were considered obese. A 0.10 unit increase in BMI was also seen in children who attended schools with a fast-food restaurant nearby (Davis & Carpenter, 2009). Almost the same results were seen in a Leeds, UK population of 33,594 children ages 3 to 14. Of those living within the metropolitan boundaries, 27.1% of the population was overweight with 12.6% being obese (Fraser & Edwards, 2010).

Not only does fast-food cause an increase in BMI, but also increases a child’s risk of becoming obese. The odds of being overweight increases 1.06 times and the odds of being obese increases 1.07 times for children who attend schools that are in close proximity to a fast-food chain (Davis & Carpenter, 2009). In a California-based study, the occurrences of obesity in high schools were significantly higher for students that could walk to fast-food outlets during or after school (Lee, 2012). Another survey conducted at a medium-sized public school district in Virginia showed that students within one-tenth of a mile of any fast-food place were 3.9 times more likely to be obese and have an increase of 2.32 units in BMI. BMI increased another 0.40 units if there was another restaurant within one quarter of a mile (Mellor, Dolan, & Rapoport, 2011). It is all about location; children are more tempted to grab a bite to eat from a fast-food restaurant if it is on their way to and from school.

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Convenience food is another factor that contributes greatly to childhood obesity. In a national study, 9,760 children were tracked from kindergarten until the spring of their eighth grade on fast-food, snack, and soda consumption. Fifth-graders showed that they ate an average of 0.46 fast-food/snacks per day, while 12% of them consumed fast-food daily. The average soft drink consumption was 0.91 servings daily with 19% reporting that they had more than twice the daily recommended serving (Andreyeya, Kelly, & Harris, 2011). Another national survey states that an extra soft drink serving for children is associated with a 15% increase in the probability of obesity, while an additional serving of fast-food causes a 25% increase. Also, an extra serving of juice a day is associated with a 10% increase (Mandal & Powell, 2014). An additional study of 350 kindergarteners in south-eastern Poland reported that 14.6% of all children were overweight. After reviewing their diets, it was found that most of the foods were calorie dense and loaded in added sugar. Snacking was seen between all meals and the consumption of sugary drinks was high. At least once a week, fruit juice high in sugar was drunk by 66% of children and sweetened sodas by 44.6% of them. Furthermore, 58% of children ate only one serving of sweets per day, while roughly one third ate these treats multiple times per week. Research indicates that young children with a BMI above the 80th percentile are at three times the risk to experience obesity during the ages from 24 to 29. The risk even increases to four times for adolescents who are overweight (Kostecka, 2014).

Even though more and more children these days are eating convenience food and fast-food, there are several ways parents, schools, and communities can help to prevent this from happening. Prevention programs must have an approach that aims to boost energy expenditure and reduce intake. Individually, caregivers would need to be targeted since most children are too young to understand. Caregivers should have nutrition education and be able to prepare healthy meals. At home, parents should be encouraged to serve proper food portions, support physical activity, and minimize or eliminate sedentary behaviors. They should also prepare meals in the home versus grabbing fast-food on the run. A good idea might be to make leftovers so that they can be heated up when in a time crunch. That way, the children are still getting a healthy and satisfying meal that gives them plenty of energy for whatever activities they might be doing. At school, school lunches can be altered to lower the caloric content and vending machines can be removed. That will eliminate any energy dense snack foods and sugary drinks, although children may still bring these kinds of snacks from home. Another idea for schools is to design their buildings so that students expend more energy throughout the day. This can be done by designing a multistory building where each succeeding class is on a different level which promotes significant stair stepping during the day. In the community, public policies and mass media campaigns can aim to promote healthy eating and an active lifestyle. The community can also place taxes on sugary items and fast-food in the hopes that the extra cost will deter people from purchasing these items. An example of a public policy that helps prevent child obesity can be seen in Arkansas. It called for mandatory BMI testing of children in public schools starting in 2003 (Han, Lawlor, & Kimm, 2010). This type of testing has been used in 13 other states and should be considered in states currently lacking this screening. This way, children’s weight can be monitored from an early age and preventative measures can be taken before it is too late.

As one can see, the rate of childhood obesity has been growing rapidly all over the world. Rates are only going to keep increasing if nothing is done to prevent it. All the studies have shown that there is a positive association between BMI and fast-food intake, and BMI and convenience food intake. A higher BMI than the norm indicates that the child is either overweight or obese. Positive associations were also seen between BMI, obesity, and distance between fast-food/convenience stores and the home/school. It is our job as a community to reduce the prevalence of obesity in children. There will always be a continued need for nutritional education concerning fast-food and its health consequences. Of the United States total gross domestic product, about 12.7% is spent on health care annually. Seeing that obesity is one of the most expensive medical conditions, the need for intervention is clear (Davis & Carpenter, 2009).

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FAQs

How does fast food contribute to childhood obesity? ›

Fast-food lovers consumed more fats, sugars and carbohydrates and fewer fruits and non-starchy vegetables than youngsters who didn't eat fast food. They also consumed 187 more daily calories, which likely adds up to about six pounds more per year, the study found.

Does the increase in fast food cause obesity? ›

The simple fact that fast food restaurants and obesity have both increased over time is insufficient proof of this link, as are studies that rely on differences in fast food consumption across individuals, since people who eat more fast food may be prone to other behaviors that affect obesity.

Why do children eating more fast food tend to suffer from obesity? ›

Such fast foods are rich in artificial sugars and high sodium content which leads to water retention. All this leads to high body weight which is obesity. ​

How does fast food affect children? ›

Obesity can result in lowered self-esteem, and perhaps depression. Some children who eat junk food are at risk of developing depression even without obesity. Depression in turn affects growth and development parameters, academic performance, and social relationships. It also results in a higher risk of suicide.

Can fast food adverts contribute to childhood obesity? ›

Children's exposure to TV ads for unhealthy food products (i.e., high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks, fast foods and sweetened drinks) are a significant risk factor for obesity.

What are the effects of fast food? ›

In the short term, fast food impacts blood sugar and blood pressure, increases inflammation, and may mean an individual does not eat enough necessary nutrients. In the long term, a diet rich in fast food could lead to issues with digestion, immunity, inflammation, heart health, obesity, and more.

What kind of food causes obesity? ›

The foods most tied to weight gain? They include potato chips, sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, refined grains, red meats and processed meats, the researchers said. Lower weight gain and weight loss are associated with whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Why fast food is increasing? ›

Inflation is regarded as one of the main reasons prices across the fast-food industry are rising. Fast-food companies having to pay workers more due to labor shortages is also reportedly another reason for increasing prices. Eating out has been a significant component of surging inflation.

What is the main issue in fast food addiction? ›

Most of the fast food contains a large amount of sugar, fats and carbs and less minerals and vitamins. This means that people are taking in large amounts of unhealthy calories in the shape of fast food which leads to weight gain and ultimately obesity.

What are some negative health effects of eating too much fast food on children? ›

Most fast-food meals – even kids' meals – have more fat, sugar, and sodium than children need, and eating this kind of unhealthy food can have negative health consequences over time, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health issues,” said Harris.

How many people suffer from obesity because of fast food? ›

According to this definition, 37.2% (41.2% in females vs 30.7% in males) were affected to overweight and obesity. Therefore, the consumption of fast food was related to obesity.

What are the causes and effects of fast food? ›

Fast food is a popular choice for its taste and convenience, but it tends to be high in calories, sugar, and fat and low in nutrients. Eating fast food frequently may negatively affect multiple areas of your body, possibly increasing your risk of conditions including type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.

Do fast food restaurants surrounding schools affect childhood obesity? ›

Living near fast food has a greater impact on younger children who attend neighborhood schools. Proximity to fast food restaurants increases the probability of childhood obesity or overweight.

Is fast food companies like Mcdonald's responsible for childhood obesity? ›

Many people also try to say that child obesity is a direct result of fast food companies advertising to them, but that's still not true. Parents are responsible for what their children eat because children don't fully understand the idea of healthy eating.

How has advertising fast food impacted children today? ›

Junk food marketing influences what foods kids like, what they pester parents for and what they actually eat. Junk food marketing is a key contributor to the problem of childhood obesity, which we know is likely to lead to adult obesity and increase a person's risk of cancer and other diseases later in life.

Is fast food harmful? ›

While the occasional night of junk food won't hurt much, eating Junk foods regular has been shown to lead to increased risks of obesity and chronic diseases. Cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and some cancers all have causes in excessive junk food consumption.

What are the positive and negative effects of fast food? ›

Fast food is rich in calories and sugar that contribute to increased-weight gain. Fast food replaces healthy eating habits. People who eat fast foods are less likely to eat vegetables, fruits, and milk. Fast food can be a good way to save time; however, it is not the right way for nutrition.

What are the examples of fast food? ›

fast foods (such as hot chips, burgers and pizzas)

What are 3 main causes of obesity? ›

Obesity affects children as well as adults. Many factors can contribute to excess weight gain including eating patterns, physical activity levels, and sleep routines. Social determinants of health, genetics, and taking certain medications also play a role.

What obesity means? ›

Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. A body mass index (BMI) over 25 is considered overweight, and over 30 is obese.

What are disadvantages of fast food? ›

Disadvantages of fast food
  • It can prompt memory Loss. ...
  • Your chances of getting dementia increase. ...
  • You can get diabetes. ...
  • Eating fast food can damage your kidneys. ...
  • Junk food makes you over-eat.
  • They will raise your blood pressure. ...
  • Fast foods are enemies of your teeth.
  • They can trigger headaches and acne.
8 Sept 2021

Why are fast foods unhealthy? ›

These fast foods typically contain multiple chemicals and synthetic ingredients. They are calorically dense, highly flavored, and nutritionally barren. Fast foods typically contain extra corn syrup, sugar, artificial sweeteners, salt, coloring agents, and other potentially disease promoting chemicals.

When did fast food become a problem? ›

Study: Fast Food Has Become Increasingly Unhealthy Since The 1980s [Infographic] Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. This article is more than 3 years old.

How can we solve the problem of fast food? ›

Eight ways to cut the junk food
  1. Plan your snacks. ...
  2. Think before you drink. ...
  3. Base meals around protein. ...
  4. Start your day on the right foot. ...
  5. Make healthier swaps. ...
  6. Practise mindful eating. ...
  7. Buy less junk food. ...
  8. Save takeaways as a treat.
25 May 2018

How has fast food affected families? ›

For teens and parents, higher frequency of fast food meals was associated with eating significantly fewer fruits and vegetables and drinking less milk. More fast food around the dinner table also meant pantry shelves were stocked with more salty snacks and soda, creating poor access to healthy foods at home.

Is fast food affecting the younger generation? ›

Frequently eating fast food could cause teens and young adults to gain more weight and face an increased risk of developing insulin resistance, according to the results of a longitudinal study that followed over 3,000 young adults over a period of 15 years.

What are 5 negative effects of eating junk food? ›

Facts of Eating Junk Foods
  • It can cause memory and learning problems.
  • It can cause type 2 diabetes.
  • It can trigger digestive problems.
  • It causes fatigue and weakness.
  • Causes depression among teenagers.
  • It causes fluctuations in blood sugar levels.
  • It affects the brain function.
  • It increases the risk of heart disease.

How does fast food affect public health? ›

Long-term effects of eating junk food

Eating a poor quality diet high in junk food is linked to a higher risk of obesity, depression, digestive issues, heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and early death.

What are 5 factors contributing to the increase in childhood obesity? ›

Many factors contribute to this epidemic such as genetics, unhealthy habits, lack of physical activity and environmental difficulties. Children are often unaware of the patterns or conditions that cause obesity, therefore, placing the responsibility on adults to lead them in the right direction.

Is there a link between marketing and child obesity? ›

Junk food marketing influences what foods kids like, what they pester parents for and what they actually eat. Junk food marketing is a key contributor to the problem of childhood obesity, which we know is likely to lead to adult obesity and increase a person's risk of cancer and other diseases later in life.

What are 3 effects of childhood obesity? ›

Obesity in children and adults increases the risk for the following health conditions. High blood pressure and high cholesterol which are risk factors for heart disease. Type 2 diabetes. Breathing problems, such as asthma and sleep apnea.

Who is responsible for childhood obesity? ›

There are numerous causes of childhood obesity. However, the ultimate responsibility for the problems and costs associated with an obese child should be attributed to that child's parents. Parents owe a duty of care to their child and, when their child is obese, have arguably breached that duty.

How does the food industry cause obesity? ›

The food industry also alters the nutritional content of foods to make them longer lasting on store shelves by increasing fats, sugars, and salt, making it less healthy for the average person to consume them. Much evidence shows that individuals are not the cause of America's obesity epidemic.

Is fast food to blame for obesity in society or is gaining too much weight? ›

A more active lifestyle will help people to burn off the extra calories. Fast-food companies must take some blame for obesity in society because they often sell high-fat food in oversize portions.

What is the biggest influence on childhood obesity? ›

Lifestyle issues — too little activity and too many calories from food and drinks — are the main contributors to childhood obesity.

How junk food can cause risk of child obesity? ›

Junk foods are found to be associated with obesity due to their high energy content and the amount of fat present or free sugar, chemical additives, and sodium with the presence of a low amount of micronutrients and fiber.

What is the best strategy to reduce childhood obesity? ›

The most important strategies for preventing obesity are healthy eating behaviors, regular physical activity, and reduced sedentary activity (such as watching television and videotapes, and playing computer games).

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3. Junk Food Kids: Who's To Blame | Obesity Documentary | S01 E01 | All Documentary
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