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Fast Food Leads Teens to Overeat

Lean Adolescents, but Not Overweight Teens, Tend to Compensate and Eat Less Later

The Research continued...

Their new research consisted of two studies designed to assess the impact of fast food consumption on total calorie intake among both overweight and lean teenagers. In the first study 26 overweight teens and 27 normal-weight teens were taken to a food court and served a super-sized McDonald's meal, consisting of nine chicken nuggets, extra-large fries, a 20-ounce cola, and two individual bags of cookies. The meal lasted for an hour, and the teens could ask for extra portions if they wanted them.

Researchers found that both groups overate during the meal, taking in an average of 1,652 calories, or 61% of their total daily calorie requirements just from this one meal. The overweight teens ate approximately 400 more calories than the lean teens did.

In the second study, overweight and normal-weight teens were followed for four days. During two of those days the teens ate one meal at the fast food restaurant of their choice. Daily telephone interviews were conducted to determine calorie intake and physical activity.

While the lean teens in this study took in roughly the same amount of calories on the fast food and non-fast food days, the overweight teenagers consumed an average of an extra 400 calories on the days when they ate fast food. This indicates that the overweight teens were less likely to compensate for the calories they ate from fast foods.

Triple Threat

Ebbeling says there are several characteristics of a typical "burger and fries" fast food meal set people up to overeat.

"This food is incredibly calorie dense -- there are a lot of calories per bite of food," she says. "It also tends to have a lot of fat, salt, and sugar, which are the tastes people like most, and it is served in enormous portions."

Nutritionist and author Marion Nestle, PhD, tells WebMD that the fast food industry is beginning to get the message that people will chose healthier foods if offered. McDonald's recently introduced salads, and announced that fries and colas would no longer be super-sized.

"It is not as if fast food company executives are sitting around tables saying, 'How can we make teenagers fat'," she says. "They discovered a long time ago that if they made things sweeter, fattier, and saltier, and made the portions huge, people would buy more of them."

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