I'm not talking about the fact that my kids can sing the University of Wisconsin fight song (they learned that in utero). No, it is their nearly complete aversion to all things fast food. We were in the car last Sunday when a McDonalds commercial came on the radio.
"They shouldn't play commercials for McDonalds," my six year old daughter said.
"Why not," I asked.
"Because, it'll make kids want to go there to eat and then they'll just get fat," she replied sharply.
"Yeah, and then they'll have to go to the hospital all of the time because they are fat and not healthy," her brother chimed in.
As it turns out, my kids are pretty smart. The very next day, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association released a study showing a direct correlation between the rise in childhood obesity and the growing trend of Americans eating commercially-made food, both in restaurants and at home. "For children in particular, the proportion of total energy obtained from all non-home, non-school food sources increased from 9% in 1977 to 22% in 1996, with the main source of away-from home foods shifting from school to fast food," the researchers found. "Both increased energy intake and lower diet quality have been associated with away-from-home foods. The lower nutritional content of fast food and its potential negative affect on diet quality have been documented."
In 2006, the researchers found, fast food represented the highest proportion of calories (daily energy, as they put it) for every age group of children studied: "For children aged 2 to 12 years, the largest contributor to energy intake from foods prepared away from home changed from school in 1994 to fast food in 2006. For adolescents, the main source of energy prepared away from home was fast food for both time periods."
Coincidentally, McDonalds on Tuesday announced that it was going to automatically add apple slices to every Happy Meal and cut the amount of french fries by half. It may not be enough to sway my kids to demand that we stop at the Golden Arches, but it's a positive sign from the world's largest restaurant chain.
Hospitals, too, are beginning to assess their role in healthful living. An article in the July issue of H&HN discusses the trend of hospitals doing away with fried foods both in the cafeteria and in patient rooms, in favor of haute and healthy cuisine.
"How can we safeguard people's health if we aren't feeding them food that's better for their bodies while they're with us?" Holly Emmons, food and nutrition manager at Union Hospital in Maryland, told our reporter. "As a hospital, we're supposed to do no harm."