Online Program

Changes in the nutritional quality of children's meals at top u.s. restaurant chains from 2008 to 2012

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ameena Batada, DrPH, Department of Health and Wellness, University of North Carolina at Asheville, Asheville, NC
Margo G. Wootan, DSc, Nutrition Policy, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington, DC

INTRODUCTION- The nutritional quality of restaurant children's meals can contribute to healthy eating and and weight among children. This study assessed the changes in nutritional quality of children's meals at the 50 largest chain restaurants in the United States from 2008 to 2012.

METHODS- We assessed the nutritional quality of all possible children's meal combinations offered at top U.S. restaurant chains against a set of standards developed by a panel of nutrition and health experts. Of the top 50 chains, the number offering children's meal combinations and adequate information for nutrition analyses increased from 22 to 34 from 2008 to 2012.

RESULTS- The overall percentage of meals that did not meet the nutrition standards decreased from 99% in 2008 to 97% in 2012. The percentages of meals exceeding the sodium and total fat limits decreased and the percentage exceeding the saturated fat limit increased. More restaurants offered non-soda beverage and fruit options, but soft drinks and fried potatoes were still the most common children's options in 2012.

CONCLUSIONS- Though the percentage of unhealthy meals has decreased slightly over four years, children's meals at the top U.S. chains remain high in calories, fats, and sodium. To support parents' efforts to feed their children a healthy diet, restaurants should: reformulate meals so that all meet nutrition standards; offer more fruit and vegetable options as the default with every children's meal; remove soda and other sugary drinks from children's menus; offer more whole grains; and provide calorie information on menus.

Learning Areas:

Advocacy for health and health education
Chronic disease management and prevention
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related organizational policy, standards, or other guidelines
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Compare the nutritional quality of children's meals across different restaurant chains in the United States. Discuss the effectiveness of self-regulation by the restaurant industry in addressing child health and nutrition. Identify strategies to improve the nutritional quality of children's meals at restaurants.

Keyword(s): Children's Health, Nutrition

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I conducted the research, including designing the study with my colleague Margo Wootan, I led the data collection and entry, analyzed the data, and wrote the report. This is an area of research in which I have a background and continue to be involved in research and advocacy.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.

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