UNC study exonerates QSR consumption as main obesity culprit

Jan. 27, 2014

A newly released study from the University of North Carolina finds that poor dietary habits learned in the home environment is the main cause of the rapid increase in health issues among school-aged children.

According to a news release, the problem of dietary imbalance is more prominent in areas where families have lower-than-average incomes and thereby suffer more from the nutritional lack in the foods that they can afford, as opposed to the lack of food availability.

The Low Income Diet and Nutrition Survey highlighted the inequities in nutritional health and eating habits of the lowest 15 percent population bracket through its survey of 3,728 people from 2,477 low-income households, tracking the effect nutritional inconsistency had on the lifestyle and other health factors in the families overall.

Results showed that food patterns for minimum wage families included fewer fruits and vegetables, relying instead on high amounts of processed food and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Tim Lobstein, director of childhood research at the International Association for the Study of Obesity, conducted another study on the minimum expense of 100 calories worth of food and found that healthy food, in general, costs more than unhealthy food. A cost increase of up to 13 percent more was found for nutritious foods consisting of fruits, fresh vegetables, lean meats, fish, grains compared to foods containing higher levels of sugars, fats and processed starches, which were the quickest and cheapest options.

The Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health published the joint study, titled "The Association of Fast Food Consumption with Outcomes and Obesity Among Children: Is It the Fast Food or The Remainder of Diet?" with the University of North Carolina in the latest issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The researchers found only 10 percent of the study participants consumed quick-service for over 30 percent of their diet intake, indicating that overall children's consumption of QSR food is only a small part of a much more pervasive dietary pattern that is fostered at an early age by children's parents and caregivers.

The study examined data acquired through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2007 and 2010. Dietary intake, including whether foods and beverages were obtained in QSR establishments or elsewhere, was evaluated in 4,466 children who were 2 years to 18 years of age. Illnesses such as obesity, anaemia, diabetes, raised blood pressure, heart and vascular disease, strokes and cancers of the stomach and oesophagus are all related to poor diet and tend to be more prevalent in low-income groups.

"Just because children who eat more fast food are the most likely to become obese does not prove that calories from fast-foods bear the brunt of the blame. Knowing where the problem originates is important if we are to invest in solutions that foster healthier habits, including reducing the consumption of sugary drinks and emphasizing more fresh vegetables and fruit," said Barry Popkin, PhD, W.R., Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Read more about trends and statistics.

Topics: Health & Nutrition , Trends / Statistics

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