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Fast food a dietary staple for American youth, survey shows

Teens eating fast food and pizza
More than one-third of American youngsters age 19 and under eat fast food on any given day. (Source: Adobe Stock)

More than one-third of American youngsters age 19 and under eat fast food on any given day, according to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). 

The ongoing survey, which included data from 2015-2018, found that children and adolescents got just under 14% of their daily calories from fast food on average during that period. Kids between the ages of 12 and 19 generally consumed a higher number of fast-food calories than those between ages 2 and 11. 

After dropping somewhat about a decade ago, to 10.6% of total calories from fast food in 2009-2010, the percentage of their daily calorie intake youngsters receive from fast food outlets increased to a new high of 14.4% in 2017-2018.

While past research has suggested that frequent fast food consumption is related to kids’ risk of becoming overweight or obese, a Dartmouth College study published earlier this year clearly established that link among some of the youngest Americans – preschoolers between the ages of 2 and 5.

“We now know … that kids who start on the path of extra weight gain during this really important timeframe tend to carry it forward into adolescence and adulthood, and this sets them up for major health consequences as they get older,” said Jennifer Emond, Ph.D., of Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine.

According to the CDC, nearly 25% of American children between the ages of 2 and 5 years are now overweight or obese. Having either of these conditions increases the risk of a variety of health problems during childhood and beyond, including fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, and mental health issues including depression.

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