Last Updated on October 8, 2016 at 2:05 PM
Health In Focus
  • Fast food restaurants form one of the popular hangout spots among teenagers and youth.
  • Combo meal packages in fast food joints automatically include sweetened beverages.
  • Taking such combo meals is associated with consumption of high calories from the sugary drinks.
  • Consumption of high calories frequently may have long-term health effects such as obesity.

Combo meals at fast food joints may be associated with consumption of high calorie sweetened beverages, suggests a recent survey conducted by NYU Langone Medical Center researchers.

Outline of the Study

Brian Elbel, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone, and at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, led the study which claimed to be thefirst of it kind to analyze the reasons behind consumption of high calorie sugary drinks at fast food outlets.
Eating Combo Meals At Fast Food Joints Linked To Kids Consuming High Calorie Beverages

The eating choices of 483 boys and girls between 1 to 18 years of age at fast food outlets, who either dined in or opted for take-away from five popular fast food outlets between January 2013 and June 2014 were studied. All restaurants included in the survey were situated in New York or in Newark or Jersey City, NJ. Additionally, the parents of all youth dining at these joints were interviewed about their purchases based on meal receipts.

What the Study Revealed

The important facts that emerged from the study include the following-
  • Kids dining at one of the five major fast-food chains on average ate 179 more calories when their meal deals included soda, juice or sweetened tea, or flavored milks, in comparison to those who consumed non-sugary beverages or nothing with their food.
  • Purchasing drinks as part of bundled combo meals was linked to the intake on average of 82 more drink calories than when the drinks were purchased separately.
  • Parents who bought combo meals were 24 percent more likely to end up opting for a high-calorie, sugar-sweetened beverage than a non-sweetened drink or no beverage, when compared to parents who did not buy combo meals.
  • Among those surveyed, fewer than half (42 percent) purchased a combination meal, but 74 percent of combo purchases were kids' meals.
  • Nearly half of all beverages (49 percent) were sodas. The rest were juice (38 percent), flavored milk (5 percent), regular milk (2 percent), and water (1 percent). Another 5 percent consisted of sweetened teas, lemonade, and hot chocolate.
  • Those who opted for takeaway meals averaged 14 fewer drink calories than those who ate in the restaurant.
  • Age and gender seemed to play a role as well, though less so than combo meals — in choosing to buy sugary drinks. Teenagers were 22 percent more likely to choose them than younger children, and probability of males taking sweetened drinks was 31 percent higher compared to females.
"Our study strongly suggests that uncoupling sugary drinks from combo meal deals might reduce high-calorie beverage consumption and help to curb childhood obesity rates fueled by these kinds of liquid calories," says study senior investigator Brian Elbel, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone, and at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

It is highly probable that additional sugar content in such sweetened drinks causes many of them to cross the maximum, recommended limit of between 120 and 180 calories set in U.S. national dietary guidelines, according to the researchers of this study.

Lessons to be Learnt From The Study

Obesity levels among young Americans seems to be increasing and could be a major risk factor for development of other diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease later. It can also cause low self-esteem and depression.

Obesity is linked to consumption of too many of calories, and calories present in sugary foodstuffs are commonly implicated. At present, 17 percent of kids in the US less than 19 years are estimated to be obese.

"Although our study does not prove cause and effect with respect to obesity and bundled fast-food meals," Elbel says, "policy-makers will ideally be able to use research like ours to guide them in formulating public health policies that may effectively decrease consumption of unhealthy sugar-sweetened beverages."

Policy makers should take note of the findings of this and other similar studies, and enforce strict regulations regarding quality and sugar content of foods served at the fast food outlets. The health of their children is at stake.

Parents and individuals too have a responsibility to make healthy choices. Fast food restaurants and 'junk foods' are here to stay. Ultimately, our health is in our hands, and in the choices we make.

  1. Childhood obesity - (
Source: Medindia

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