Fast food has become an easy target for folks looking to blame something -- anything -- for the prevalence of childhood obesity. And, true, such food can be high in both calories and fat. But it appears the blame might also be shared by other foods eaten outside the home.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assessed the food intake of nearly 30,000 children between 1977 and 2006 using four surveys. They found that children are consuming 179 more daily calories now than they were in the late 1970s -- and that the increase is driven mostly by food eaten outside the house.
In 1977, about 23% of kids’ calories came from outside the home; by 2006, 34% did.
Fast food accounts for some of the increase. But store-bought food eaten away from home also drove the growth in calories, especially between 1994 and 2006. That includes hot-and-ready food at grocery stores (think fried chicken) and pre-packaged sandwiches — food that doesn’t require home prep.
Meanwhile, children aren’t eating that many fewer calories at home than they did three decades ago, the researchers found. The results were published online in the Journal of the American Dietetic Assn. The researchers wrote in the discussion of their paper: