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Eating Out and Weight

by Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH

It might come as a bit of a surprise, but where your kids eat can have a significant impact on their weight. The busier we become, the more likely we are to eat somewhere other than at home. Dashboard dining seems to be the norm these days, and many families haven’t gathered around the kitchen table in months, or even years.

Childhood obesity is still a huge public health problem in the U.S. One factor contributing to the problem is the fact that American children are consuming far more meals and snacks away from home than they once did.

In a recent study* conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, researchers noted that both eating location and food source have significant impacts on a child’s daily calorie consumption. Foods prepared and eaten away from home, such as fast food or restaurant food, contribute to an overall increase in a child’s total daily caloric intake. Even food prepared away from home but eaten at the dining room table contributes to greater daily caloric intake among children. This category includes takeout meals from your favorite restaurant, or in-store prepared food that you bring home to your family from your favorite supermarket.

After studying data collected from nearly 30,000 children, the researchers found that the percentage of calories that kids get from fast food has increased dramatically in recent years. Currently, it surpasses caloric intake from meals and snacks consumed at school.

From 1977 to 2006, the percentage of total calories that kids ate away from home each day increased from around 23 percent to around 34 percent. The more calories consume away from home, the more likely they are to struggle with weight issues.

You can help your child—and yourself, for that matter—maintain a nutritious diet and a healthy weight by eating at home, and around the table with the family, as often as possible. It’s not the easiest thing you’ll ever do, but it’s definitely one of the most important investments you can make in your family’s health.

So clear off your kitchen counters, pull out your pots and pans, and invite your kids into the kitchen to help you prepare a nutritious, home cooked meal. It’s time to take back the table!

*Jennifer M. Poti and Barry M. Popkin. Trends in energy intake among US children by eating location and food source, 1977-2006. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 111, Issue 8 (August 2011)

The information on MommyMDGuides.com is not intended to replace the diagnosis, treatment, and services of a physician. Always consult your physician or child care expert if you have any questions concerning your family's health. For severe or life-threatening conditions, seek immediate medical attention.