Field Notes

Kids Consume More Soda and Calories When Eating Out

Children and adolescents consume more calories and soda and have poorer nutrient intake on days they eat at either fast-food or full-service restaurants compared with days they eat meals at or from home.

A new study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and published online by Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine is the first to look separately at fast-food and full-service restaurants. The researchers examined calorie intake, diet quality, and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, particularly soda, on days when youngsters ate out compared with days they did not. They used data from the three waves of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for the years between 2003 and 2008, which included 4,717 children aged 2 to 11 and 4,699 adolescents aged 12 to 19.

At restaurants, the researchers found, youths consumed higher amounts of sugar, total fat, saturated fat, and sodium. Take-out meals fared better in one regard: The researchers found adolescents consumed twice as much soda when eating in the restaurant compared with when they ate the restaurant food at home.

“We attribute that to the free refills,” says Lisa Powell, a professor of health policy and administration in the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and lead study author. Children and adolescents also drank less milk on days when they ate at restaurants, she says.

In earlier studies, Powell and colleagues found that 41% of adolescents consumed fast food on a given day in an amount that averaged almost 1,000 kcal. One-third of children aged 2 to 11 consumed fast food on a given day.

The new study showed that on days when adolescents ate fast food, they consumed an additional 309 kcal, suggesting they don’t reduce their nonrestaurant food intake enough to compensate. Young children took in an additional 126 kcal. Full-service dining caused increases of about 267 kcal for teens and 160 kcal for children.

The concern, Powell says, is that kids are consuming fast food too frequently and not in moderation.

Limiting consumption from restaurants would help “improve diet outcomes among children and youth,” she says. Better nutritional standards are needed “to improve the range of healthy food options available in order to turn around the obesity trend.”

The researchers also found fast food had even greater adverse effects on diet for lower-income children, potentially increasing health disparities. Lower-income teens who consumed fast food took in more sugar, total fat, saturated fat, and sodium than their higher-income peers.

“When lower-income youths are eating fast food, they’re choosing more energy-dense, lower-quality foods that tend to be higher in fats and sodium and can be purchased cheaply,” Powell says. “They aren’t going to the fast-food restaurant and getting a salad or the healthier turkey sub with lots of veggies.”

— Source: University of Illinois at Chicago


Dietitian Weighs in on Controversy About Arsenic in Food

Recent reports about arsenic in rice have sparked concern among US consumers. However, the average American who eats a variety of whole grains doesn’t need to worry about arsenic, according to Brooke Schantz, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, of Loyola University Health System in suburban Chicago.

Consumer Reports recently completed an investigation that found that white rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas had higher levels of total arsenic compared with other rice samples. The report also revealed that brown rice contains higher levels of total arsenic compared with white rice, and arsenic levels are 44% higher in consumers who eat rice compared with those who do not. These findings are being used to encourage the FDA to set limits for arsenic in our food.

“It’s possible to limit your exposure to arsenic in your food through a balanced diet,” Schantz says. “More vulnerable populations or those who consume a higher amount of rice due to dietary preferences or needs, such as infants, pregnant women, vegans, vegetarians, or individuals with celiac disease, are at greater risk for consuming excessive amounts of arsenic in rice.”

Arsenic is an element that occurs in inorganic and organic forms. Both types of arsenic can be found in water, food, soil, and air. Inorganic forms of arsenic (arsenate and arsenite) are known carcinogens and are toxic to the body.

Rice plants normally take up silicon from the soil to help strengthen their stems and husks. However, the chemical structure of silicon and arsenic look very similar. Therefore, in growing conditions that have higher amounts of arsenic in the soil and water, rice plants mistakenly take up arsenic instead of silicon from the surrounding environment.

To reduce arsenic intake, Schantz recommends consuming a diet with a variety of whole grains and watching portion sizes. She also suggests thoroughly rinsing off raw rice before cooking it. Also, use a ratio of 6 cups of water to 1 cup of rice and drain the excess water.

“The truth is we don’t currently know what amount of organic and inorganic arsenic is even absorbed into our bodies from specific foods made from rice nor do we know enough about long-term exposure to low levels of arsenic to set limits,” Schantz says. “There likely have been high concentrations of arsenic in our food for centuries; we have just only now begun to properly detect it in our food.”

The FDA is collecting and analyzing data of more than 1,000 rice and rice-containing products before setting limits or future regulations. The agency reported it would be premature to recommend modifying diets because of arsenic levels until a more thorough analysis is complete.

— Source: Loyola University Health System