The majority of parents underestimate the calorie content in their kids’ fast food meals, according to a new study. 72% of the parents in the study low-balled the number of calories in their kids’ dinners at 5 popular fast food chains: McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, KFC, and Wendy’s. Previous studies have demonstrated that adults often underestimate the calories in their own meals, but little research has been conducted to show how well parents can judge the amount of calories in the meals that they buy for their children. The new study consisted of 330 children and their parents, with 57% of the children overweight or obese. Many of the parents purchased large meals for their children, according to the researchers. On average, the kids’ fast food meals had a calorie content of 733, but the parents estimated that the meals contained an average of just 562 calories. While over 70% of the parents underestimated the number of calories in their child’s meal to some extenet, almost 25% of them underestimating the meal by at least 500 calories.
It is clear that the shift in our food environment has at least in part contributed to our growing rates of childhood obesity. Fast food labeling, as initiated by New York and California, may be a good way to help parents keep track of the healthier options and may be the best way to help in the fight against obesity, according to Dr. Marina Kurian, bariatric surgeon in New York. “Fast food restaurants are used by so many of us because of convenience, and unfortunately it comes at a cost,” Dr. Kurian concluded. At the Bariatric Institute of Greater Chicago, we help many adults struggling with obesity. Because studies have shown that a child who is obese between the ages of 10 – 13 has an 80% chance of being obese as an adult, we hope that more measures – like clear calorie labels on fastfood menus, and offering more bottled water instead of soda or sugary drinks – will be taken to help parents make choices that will minimize weight gain and promote healthy habits with their kids.