Parents May Underestimate Calorie Count in Fast Food Meals for Kids

153802966Many parents buy large meals for their children at fast food restaurants, and they tend to underestimate how many calories are actually in the food, according to a new study. There’s no denying that fast food has become a large part of America’s dining culture. According to the book Fast Food Nation, over the past several decades our love of fast food has skyrocketed. In 1970, Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food; in 2000, we spent more than $110 billion, according to book author, Eric Schlosser. Americans now spend more money on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software, or new cars. We spend more on fast food than on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and recorded music – combined”, he said.

In tandem with this increase in spending on fast food, we’ve seen national obesity rates climb. Fast food meals are often high in fat, sugar and calories. Previous research has shown that adults are not very good at gauging the calorie content of their own fast food meals, most often underestimating. Fueled by this research, Harvard Medical School Researchers conducted an experiment to see how well parents would estimate the calorie count in their children’s fast food dinners.

The researchers visited 10 restaurants in each of four New England cities: three McDonald’s, three Burger King, two Subway, one KFC, and one Wendy’s. Each restaurant was visited six times at dinnertime. They found that the meals purchased for kids contained an average of 733 calories, and 1 in 5 contained more than 1,000 calories. The parents, however, estimated an average of only 562 calories per meal, with as much as 72 percent underestimating the calorie count. Many of the calories consumed at fast food restaurants are via sugar-sweetened beverages. Kids age 2 – 19 consume about 7.2 trillion calories in sugar sweetened beverages per year. You can read about how the consumption of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages has recently been tied more firmly to obesity here.

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