Children and teens consume more calories, get less food prepared at home and way more of it comes from fast food than 30 years ago.
More Calories Per Day
That is the outcome of a new meta-analysis that took the results of four national surveys conducted between 1977 and 2006 and looked at how nutrition has changed in these age groups in the last three decades. All in all, the data of more than 30,000 children and adolescents under 18 went into this.
One of the most important findings is that American children in 1977/78 ate approximately 1,840 kcal per day and that since then this has increased by 179, to now come in at 2,020. In a week this amounts to an extra 1,253 or 5,370 in a month.
As children and teenagers today spend more time in front of the TV or computer and generally are less physically active than those in the 70s, we can assume that they actually would need fewer calories per day.
Even if we assume that the daily calories burned are the same, the numbers are worrying: Gaining one lb of bodyweight only requires a surplus of 3,500 calories, so we are looking at children and teenagers who potentially gain an extra 1 1/2 lbs of fat per month.
Less Food Prepared At Home
What goes hand in hand with this increase in consumed calories is that less and less food is prepared and eaten at home. According to the analysis, in 1977 kids and teens got 77% of their nutrition from home food, now it’s only 66%. Even for children as young as 2 this decreased: in 1977 it was 85%, now it’s just 71%. Toddlers at fast food restaurants handed a fry come to mind here.
Because that is where more and more of the consumed food is coming from. In the decade up to 2006, the percentage of calories coming from school food sank from 9% to 8%, while from fast food it increased from 10 to 13 percent. Taken together with foods eaten at regular restaurants (5%), now more than double as many daily calories come from regular restaurants and fast food than from school lunches.
Fast Food On The Rise
A while ago I talked about the upheaval surrounding the calories in school chocolate milk and I again have to ask: do we really have to worry about that? It may be more interesting to examine the reasons behind this increase in fast food consumption and what we can do to change it. Today’s children are tomorrow’s parents.