Even before the pandemic, American kids were eating more fast food than ever before, says new study

Even before the pandemic, American kids were eating more fast food than ever before, says new study
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  • Black and Hispanic children eat more fast food than white kids, and teenagers eat more fast food than younger children, a study by the CDC shows.
  • Fast-food consumption has risen during the pandemic, with hot dog sales increasing by more than 120% in March.
  • In the UK, there are fears that a government-funded eat-out scheme will lead to higher obesity rates.

American children and adolescents are eating more fast food than ever before — but just how much varies greatly by age and ethnicity, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revealed.

The report found that children and adolescents got an average of 13.8% of their daily calories from fast food between 2015 and 2018. The previous figure, from 2011 to 2012, was 12.4%.

The study also shows older children consume a higher proportion of calories from fast food. Children aged 2 to 11 get 11.5% of their daily calories from fast food, rising to 18% for those aged 12 to 19.


Black and Hispanic children eat more fast food than white kids, the report said.

More than a third of American children eat fast food on any given day, the report said.

The CDC report is based on data from the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2018, meaning it doesn't take the effects of the pandemic into account. But by all indications, American diets have moved more toward convenient and affordable foods in recent months.


During lockdown, the sales of many fast food products have skyrocketed, with hot dog sales increasing by more than 120% in March year-on-year.

However, it isn't just comfort cravings that are causing Americans to eat more unhealthy food. People have less time and money to invest in cooking nutritious meals — during the pandemic, more jobs have been lost than at any time since the Great Depression.

Grocery prices, which rose by about 3.6% from April to July, may have also contributed to increased fast food consumption.


It isn't just the price that makes fast food attractive. Parents are juggling working and looking after their kids who are spending more time at home. The American Camp Association says 80% percent of overnight camps and 40% of day camps have remained shut this summer because of lockdown. These time-strapped Americans are turning to the convenience of takeout food, and many delivery services are soaring. Domino's reported that its US same-store sales rose by 16% in the second quarter of 2020, and in the first half of the year generated $240 million in net income - 30% higher than in 2019.

In the UK, there are similar concerns that obesity rates will rise because of the pandemic. To support the hospitality industry the government introduced the "Eat Out to Help Out" scheme in August, where diners at eligible restaurants, cafes and bars can receive 50% off the cost of their meal. This is subsidized by the government. The offer was used more than 64 million times within its first three weeks, and UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that this program is supporting nearly 2 million employees in the hospitality sector.

However, fast-food restaurants like McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC are eligible for the scheme. This has brought widespread concerns that it will accelerate UK obesity rates, with the National Obesity Forum arguing that it would be a ''green light to promote junk food."


This increased fast food consumption during lockdown, in turn, is making people more at risk from COVID-19. Obese individuals — those with a BMI over 30 — are 113% more likely to be hospitalized from the virus, and have a 48% higher risk of death, according to a study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Some countries are taking desperate steps to fight this rise in obesity. Recently Oaxaca became the first state in Mexico to ban the sale of junk food and sugary drinks to children. Businesses who break the new law can be fined and risk closure, and their owners can even face time in jail. This isn't the first radical measure introduced in the country to combat its childhood obesity rate, which is among the highest in the world. In 2014 a country-wide tax on sugary drinks and junk food was introduced. Despite this, 73% of Mexicans are currently classified as overweight, according to the OECD. This figure was just 20% in 1996.