BOSTON -- New research shows that adolescents who eat large amounts offried food away from home are heavier and more likely to have apoor-quality diet. Among 14,355 children surveyed over three years,researchers from the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention (atHarvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care) found that 9 to14 year olds who increased their consumption of fried food away fromhome over the course of a year gained weight above the normal rate.This research was conducted at the DACP Center for Child Health CareStudies and is reported in this month's Pediatrics journal.
"Doctors should encourage teens to limit their intake of foodprepared away from home and to eat family dinners together, thebenefits of which appear to include improved diet quality," said leadauthor Elsie Taveras, instructor in ambulatory care and prevention atHarvard Medical School (HMS) and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care (HPHC).She added that home dinners have been found to reduce high-riskadolescent behaviors such as tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use.Taveras is also director of the One Step Ahead program at Children'sHospital Boston, which teaches families how to make healthy foodchoices.
"In today's fast food environment, it's a challenge for teenagers andtheir families to eat what's nutritious and healthful. When you are atyour favorite restaurant, stay away from the fried foods and insteadchoose modest portions of grilled chicken or fish, a salad, or somefruit," said Matthew Gillman, senior author on the paper and associateprofessor of ambulatory care and prevention at HMS and HPHC.
Taveras and colleagues surveyed 14,355 children between 9 and14 years old, and recorded their height, weight, physical activity, andfrequency of consumption of fried food away from home. She found thatover time, when the children increased the amount of fried foods theyate away from home, their body mass index (BMI) also increased. In thesurvey, this direct association was greatest among the youngest girls(ages 9 to 12). This finding could help doctors and parents to developeffective interventions to prevent excessive weight gain during thisperiod of adolescence.
Adolescents in the study who ate fried food away from home morefrequently reported higher total caloric intakes, intakes of saturatedand trans fats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red and processed meats,and higher glycemic loads. They also ate fewer foods that are integralto a well-balanced diet, like fruits and vegetables. Taveras's studysuggests that eating fried food away from home is associated withdietary patterns leading to excessive weight gain (e.g., drinkingsugar-sweetened beverages) and chronic diseases, such as heart disease(e.g. high consumption of trans and saturated fats), cancer (e.g. lowconsumption of fruits and vegetables), and type 2 diabetes (e.g. highglycemic load).
"Many of my patients, ages 8 to 12 years old, frequently eatfoods prepared away from home, sometimes up to four times a week. Ifthese early eating patterns persist throughout their adolescence, ourfindings suggest that these children will be heavier and perhaps bemore at risk of chronic diseases," Taveras said. "We try to teachfamilies how to make healthier choices when they choose to eat out andto encourage a well-balanced diet when eating in."
At the beginning of the study, 3.5 percent of girls and 6percent of boys reported eating four to seven servings of fried foodaway from home per week. Overall, girls and boys 13 to 14 years old atemore fried food away from home than 9 to 12 year olds. At the end ofthe three-year study, the proportion of girls and boys who ate four toseven servings per week had more than doubled, to 7.5 percent and 12.7percent, respectively.
Access the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's BMI charts for children and teens:http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi/bmi-for-age.htm
HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL
Harvard Medical School has more than 6,000 full-time faculty working ineight academic departments based at the School's Boston quadrangle orin one of 47 academic departments at 18 Harvard teaching hospitals andresearch institutes. Those Harvard hospitals and research institutionsinclude Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women'sHospital, Cambridge Health Alliance, The CBR Institute for BiomedicalResearch, Children's Hospital Boston, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute,Forsyth Institute, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Joslin Diabetes Center,Judge Baker Children's Center, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary,Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Mental Health Center,McLean Hospital, Mount Auburn Hospital, Schepens Eye ResearchInstitute, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, and the VA BostonHealthcare System.
HARVARD PILGRIM HEALTH CARE
HarvardPilgrim Health Care is a not-for-profit health care plan operating inMassachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine with a network of more than22,000 doctors, 130 hospitals, and more than 800,000 members. HarvardPilgrim was the first New England health plan to establish a non-profitfoundation with the sole purpose of serving the community at large. Theefforts of the foundation reflect Harvard Pilgrim's mission, which isto improve the health of its members and the health of society.
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