New Study Finds American Kids Are Eating More Fast Food Than Before, But Why?

In recent years, fast food chains have added new food options to their menus, giving kids the choice of fruit instead of fries or juice instead of soda. It's all part of offering healthier options in fast food settings. However, not only are kids typically skipping these healthy food options, but new research has found that American kids are eating more fast food than before.

Fast food chains have been under pressure to add healthier food options to their menus for quite some time. In 2005, McDonald's introduced fruit bags as a Happy Meal option, as noted on its website. And in 2011, Burger King began to look towards women with children to turn the company around, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. The burger chain's solution? It added Quaker oatmeal to its menu.

"At a time when so many families are looking for better-for-you meal offerings on-the-go, Quaker's partnership with Burger King Corp. provides a flavorful, whole grain choice when eating outside the home," Margery Schelling, global innovation officer, PepsiCo Foodservice, said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

With items like fruit and oatmeal popping up across fast food chains, the question still remained as to whether kids are actively consuming those new, healthier options.

A study published on Sept. 27 by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut looked into the trend of kids' eating habits from the nation's four largest fast-food chains. As outlined by Science Daily, those chains included: McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, and Subway.

For the study, researchers polled roughly 800 parents in 2010, 2013, and 2016, as reported by Fox News, on what they had ordered for their children (between the ages of 2 to 11) within the past seven days. Of those surveyed, Science Daily reported that 61 percent of moms were between the ages of 25 to 40, and what researchers found was interesting on multiple levels.

First, the study concluded that 74 percent of kids still received unhealthy drinks and/or side items with their meals, according to Science Daily. Beyond that, the results also noted that 91 percent of respondents said they bought lunch or dinner for their child from one of the fast food restaurants, as reported by Fox News. That percentage is a drastic leap from the 79 percent in 2010, as noted by Fox News.

Not only are kids typically still eating the unhealthy food options, they're now eating fast food more than ever before. But, why is that?

It may be tempting to automatically blame parents. However, it's important to note that there are multiple factors contributing to why Americans, in general, consume unhealthy food.

Food prices within the country have remained on the rise, as reported by ABC News. In July 2018, USA Today reported that the price of all food has risen 26.8 percent over the past 10 years. According to the outlet, rising food prices have outpaced the 21.9 percent inflation rate over the same amount of time. While those food prices continue to rise, Pew Research reported in August 2018 that most Americans have not seen a wage increase in decades.

Americans are having a difficult time affording basic necessities, thanks to wages that refuse to shift. The Labor Department in July 2017 found that 7.6 million workers held multiple jobs, up 2 percent from 7.4 million in July 2016.

For many Americans, the reality is that fast food is the best option they have to feed themselves and their children. And although fast food chains may offer healthy options, those options could be promoted more, as the study noted. Jennifer Harris, Director of Marketing Initiatives for the UConn Rudd Center, and lead author of the report, said, according to Science Daily:

While most fast-food restaurants do have healthier kids' meal drinks and sides available, many do little to make parents aware of the healthier options or to encourage parents to choose the healthier options instead of unhealthy ones. If restaurants are serious about children's health, they will make the healthiest choice the easiest choice for parents and the most appealing choice for children.

Researchers are advocating for restaurants to automatically provide healthy drinks and sides as the default option, according to Science Daily, and point to the need for regulation to mandate that.

In addition, fast food restaurants may have added a couple healthy options, but they've overwhelmingly done little to examine their high calorie food.

Kids may be eating more fast food than before, but they're certainly not to blame. And although it may be easy to completely blame the parents and convenience, there are more parts to the equation.