Foods Causing The Childhood Obesity Epidemic: Everything From French Fries To Candy Bars

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Who are the biggest culprits when it comes to childhood obesity? Niklas Bildhauer CC BY-SA 2.0

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the U.S. in the past 30 years, and other industrialized countries, such as Canada and the UK aren’t far behind. While we are quick to point the finger at fast food and soda for these worldwide increases in BMI, as shown in a new study, burgers aren’t the only factor behind this obesity epidemic.

Recently, a group of researchers from Duke-National University of Singapore analyzed the daily food diaries, weight, height, BMI and physical activity of 4,646 British children at ages 7, 10, and 13. Their findings, which are now published in Health Affairs, revealed what types of food were most heavily associated with the biggest weight gains and biggest weight losses over the six years.

Foods that had the biggest association with weight gain at the three weigh-in intervals included: fat spreads (such as butter and margarine); coated (breaded or battered) poultry and fish; potatoes cooked in oil (French fries, roasted potatoes, and potato chips); processed and unprocessed meats; desserts and candy; milk; and of course, sugar-sweetened beverages. However, the researchers did single out one specific food as particularly troublesome to the young children’s waistline: potato chips.  

“We found potato chips to be one of the most obesity-promoting foods for youth to consume. Potato chips are very high in energy density (383–574 kcal/100g) and have a low satiety index, yet they are commonly consumed as snacks,” the researchers wrote, as reported by The Atlantic.

On the other hand, high fiber foods like whole grains and cereal were associated with weight loss among the children.

While we already knew that potato chips and chicken fingers are definitely not part of a healthy diet, the researchers hope that this clear outline of the most fattening childhood foods will help parents better combat childhood obesity. In addition, these results reinforce the idea that diets that target specific foods and beverage groups could help produce better weight outcomes.

Along with cutting down on these specific foods, recent research has also found that, contrary to common belief, popular low-fat diets are actually ineffective in helping dieters keep off weight in the long run. While fat does contain about twice as many calories per gram and carbohydrates and protein, a new study has found that there was virtually no difference in average weight loss between low-fat dieters and high fat diets. Rather, low-carbohydrate dieters seemed to fair the best.

Source: Dong D, Bilger M, van Dam R, Finkelstein EA. Consumption Of Specific Foods And Beverages And Excess Weight Gain Among Children And Adolescents. Health Affairs. 2015

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