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Teens take in extra 300 calories per fast food trip, study finds

A new study reinforces that eating at home is the healthier option for families.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago found kids and teens consumed up to 300 calories more per trip to a fast-food or full-service restaurant compare to days they ate at home. Overtime that can add up, contributing to the ballooning childhood obesity epidemic.

"Parents (should) realize that restaurant consumption is not a straight-off substitute for eating at home," study author Dr. Lisa Powell, professor of health policy and administration in the UIC School of Public Health, told Reuters. "Restaurant consumption and fast-food consumption should not be the norm."

About 12.5 million U.S. kids and teens between ages 2 to 19 are obese -- that's 12.5 million young Americans.

The study involved more than 4,700 children between the ages of two and about 4,700 adolescents from ages 12 to 19. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that took place between 2003 and 2008, the researchers wanted to see if there were differences in calorie intake, diet quality, and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages -- namely soda -- on days when kids ate at home and kids ate out.

Overall, the nation's youth take in higher amounts of sugar, total fat, saturated fat and sodium when eating out at restaurants, compared to chowing down at home.

They found that children consumed an extra 126 calories and adolescents took in 309 calories more each trip to a fast-food restaurant,as opposed to home cooking. Eating at a restaurant was linked to a 160-calorie increase for kids and a 267-calorie increase for adolescents, compared with times they ate at their house.

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Fast food restaurants in particular tacked on an added 13 percent more sugar, 22 percent more total fat, 25 percent more saturated fat and 17 percent more sodium on teen's diets than daily recommended values.

Kids and adolescents were also shown to drink "significantly higher" amounts of soda on days they ate from restaurants, especially adolescents.

"Every day, about 40 percent of U.S. children eat at these restaurants," Powell said to HealthDay. "We need policies that promote healthier food choices, rather than one that promotes unhealthy food choices."

The authors call for policies such as increasing costs of these purchases, limiting access through zoning (such as around schools) limiting portion sizes, and curbing children's exposure to restaurant and fast food marketing.

Providing more healthy options at restaurants by reducing the default beverage size was the aim for New York City's limits on sugary drinks, New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farleysaid in September. Beginning March, 2013, sugary drinks sold at restaurants, fast food chains, delis, food carts, sporting venues and movie theaters can't be larger than 16-ounces. The rule would not apply to beverages sold at grocery or convenience stores.

The Study is published in the Nov. 5 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

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