Fast food has changed quite a bit in recent years. In addition to the usual burgers and fries on the menu, most restaurants now also offer healthier options like wraps, salads, fruit and yogurt. But that doesn't mean everyone is eating well or as well they should. In fact, a new study out of the University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that American children are eating more fast food now than ever before.
The study polled roughly 800 parents — in 2010, 2013 and 2016 — regarding their children's eating habits, particularly those at the nation’s four largest fast-food chains: McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Subway. According to the results, 91 percent of those surveyed bought at least one meal for their child from a fast-food eatery each week, which is up from 79 percent in 2010.
What's more, 74 percent of the kids ordered an unhealthy drink and/or side items with their meal.
Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives for the UConn Rudd Center and the lead author of the report said in a statement, "We know that fast food offers parents a convenient, affordable option for feeding their families. But restaurants have a responsibility to make these affordable, convenient foods healthier. 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."
That said, Harris acknowledged that fast-food restaurants have made great strides in recent years. However, they need to do more to educate parents about the options they have.
"While most fast-food restaurants do have healthier kids' meal drinks and sides available, many do little to make parents aware of the healthier options or to encourage parents to choose the healthier options instead of unhealthy ones," Harris said. "If restaurants are serious about children's health, they will make the healthiest choice the easiest choice for parents and the most appealing choice for children."
As such, the best thing parents can do is to research each chain's menu and keep an eye out for healthy items and encourage kids to opt for those over the deep-fried offerings.