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Healthy Fast Food for Kids a Tall Order?

Watchdog Group Finds Most Kids' Fast Food Meals Are Unhealthy, but Industry Contends Healthy Choices Exist
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 4, 2008 -- Most kids' fast food meals are unhealthy, loaded with too many calories and too much fat and sodium, according to a report issued today by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"You can hunt around and you will find a few [kids'] meals that are nutritionally pretty good," says Michael Jacobson, PhD, executive director of the CSPI, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. "But the vast majority of meals are too high in calories, saturated fat, or sodium. They are all made with refined white flour rather than whole wheat flour -- not the kind of meals we ought to be encouraging people to eat."

But spokespeople from the restaurant industry disagree, saying that menus have improved nutritionally in recent years, giving diners a choice of healthier options.

Kids' Fast Food Meals: Report Detail

CSPI's researchers, led by Margo G. Wootan, the center's nutrition policy director, assessed the nutrition of children's meals from 13 different restaurant chains.

They looked at all the possible children's meal combinations -- all the ways that an entree, side item, and beverage could be combined -- and came up with 1,474 possible choices at the 13 chains.

Then they compared the options with a set of nutritional standards. The meal should not have more than one-third of the daily requirement for the average child aged 4-8, or not more than 430 calories. Fat should not be more than 35% of calories, with saturated and trans fat no more than 10% of calories. They looked at added sugars and sodium, with cutoffs for each.

Kids' Fast Food Meals: The Hall of Shame

Ninety-three percent of the 1,474 options had more than 430 calories, they found. Forty-five percent of the options were too high in saturated and trans fat, and 86% were too high in sodium.

Five meal choices earned CSPI's "Hall of Shame" award. On that list:

  • Chili's country-fried chicken crispers, cinnamon apples, and chocolate milk, with 1,020 calories
  • Chili's cheese pizza, homestyle fries, and lemonade, with 1,000 calories
  • KFC's popcorn chicken, baked beans, biscuit, fruit punch, and Teddy Grahams, with 940 calories
  • Burger King's double cheeseburger, fries, and chocolate milk, with 910 calories
  • Sonic's grilled cheese, fries, and slushie, with 830 calories

Kids' Fast Food Meals: Healthier Choices

Some meals did meet the CSPI's nutritional criteria. Among the options:

  • Subway's ham mini sub with juice box and apple slices or raisins; roast beef mini sub and juice box with any side, including apple slices or raisins or yogurt; turkey mini sub and juice box with apples slices or raisins or yogurt
  • Chili's grilled chicken sandwich with apple juice and corn kernels (or mandarin oranges or pineapple)
  • Denny's pancakes without meat, with maple syrup; macaroni and cheese, and grapes
  • Arby's popcorn chicken or junior roast beef sandwich with fruit cup and fruit juice

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