Frequent Eating Out Hurts Kids' Hearts
Eating Out 4 or More Times a Week Can Lead to Heart Disease Later
Nov. 15, 2005 (Dallas) -- If you take your kids out to eat four or more
times a week, you may be putting them at risk for heart disease and stroke
later in life, researchers say.
Children who frequently dine out get more starch, sugar, salt, and fat than
those who eat at home, says researcher Karen Olson, RN, executive director of
the Cardiovascular Research and Education Foundation in Wausau, Wis.
More disturbingly, she tells WebMD, they have higher blood pressure, lower
levels of "good" HDL cholesterol, and smaller LDL particle size. Small,
dense LDL particles are a known risk factor for atherosclerosis, a build-up of
They are also more likely to have low insulin sensitivity, an early signal
of diabetes, she says. Eating out two or three times a week didn't appear to
have heart-harmful effects, Olson says. "But children who eat out four or
more times a week seem to be setting [themselves] up for cardiovascular disease
down the road."
The message for parents, Olson says, is that "you need to make healthy
choices when you eat out." Most restaurants, even those that serve fast
food, now have salads and other low-fat, low-sugar choices, she says.
Older Kids Eat Out More
The study, presented here at the annual meeting of the American Heart
Association, included 621 children and teens in the second, fifth, eight, and
11th grades. They filled out diet and exercise surveys that asked them where
they ate, what they ate, how much they ate, and how often they ate as well as
how frequently they engaged in various activities.
About one-fifth of the students indicated that they had eaten out four or
more times weekly, not including lunches in the school cafeteria or take-out
food brought home to eat.
The older a child, the more frequently he or she dined out, the survey
showed. Only 15% of second graders ate out four or more times a week, compared
with 37% of 11th graders.
"The children that ate out more frequently were also more
sedentary," Olson says. Not counting school or time spent reading or doing
homework at the computer, children who dined out more often spent almost four
hours a day playing computer games and watching television. Children who ate
out less often spent fewer than three hours a day in sedentary activities.
Children who ate out four or more times a week also drank more than 1.5
times as many sodas and other sugary drinks -- about 6 cups a week compared
with fewer than 4 cups a week for the children who ate out less often.
Problems With Prepared Foods
Surprisingly, the children who ate out more frequently were not
significantly more overweight than their peers. "But this might just
reflect that the dietary choices have not yet had their full impact on body
weight," Olson says.
She also urges parents to make more balanced meals at home. "Eating out
four times [a week] shouldn't create the high-sugar, high-sodium, high-fat
intake that we saw. We think these children are also eating a lot of unbalanced
meals at home -- frozen pizzas and packaged macaroni and cheese and so
Robert Bonow, MD, a past president of the American Heart Association and a
heart specialist at Northwestern University in Chicago, agrees that the problem
is not just where your child eats, but what he or she eats.
"We've moved to supersized meals in restaurants and to supersized meals
at home," he tells WebMD.
An even bigger problem, Bonow says, is that more and more fast-food
restaurants are popping up near schools.
"A recent study in Chicago showed that fast-food chains are clustering
near schools, while other types of restaurants are located all over the city.
We have to teach our kids to make healthy choices early on," he says.