When kids eat out, they pay for it in calories

It's not exactly news that eating out can cause weight gain.

Having meals in restaurants--or opting for fast food--ensures you have little knowledge of how that meal was prepared and the nutritional profile of your food. And while adults may know better, a new study shows that we should be concerned about our kids.

A few meals out per week means serious weight gain

The study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, found that kids ate more calories when they had fast food or ate at a restaurant. How many more calories? Younger kids, age 2-11, had an extra 126-160 calories on days they ate out, while adolescents had an average of 267-310 more.

According to this research, an adolescent could gain, on average, about one pound per month if he or she eats out 2-3 times per week--an extra 12 pounds each year.

When parents need to step in

For the survey, more than 9,000 teens were asked about their eating habits during the previous 24-hour period. Of those questioned, between 24 and 42 percent had eaten fast food. Lead researcher Lisa Powell of the University of Illinois explains the ramifications of the study findings:

"Parents (should) realize that restaurant consumption is not a straight-off substitute for eating at home. Restaurant consumption and fast-food consumption should not be the norm. The additional calories and the additional sugar and saturated fat and sodium that are taken in and then consistently taken in will have some longer-term consequences."

Even more troubling about the study is that children from poorer families consumed the most excess calories on days they ate out. Powell notes that we should be concerned about the "health disparities" that are going to occur among different socioeconomic populations if we don't better educate our children about mindful eating and calorie consumption.

Compensating for "cheat" days

Joan Rector McGlockton, vice president of industry affairs and food policy at the National Restaurant Association, says that it's important to be aware of your other meals on a day you know you or your children will be eating out.

"If you're going to eat a fast-food or full-service meal, there needs to be a conscious effort to compensate throughout the day," said McGlockton.

Source: Chicago Tribune

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