Study: Kids’ menus full of saturated fat, sodium, sugar

Sugary drinks and foods high in calories, saturated fat and sodium dominate kids' menus at many national chains despite some restaurants' voluntary participation in an initiative aiming to improve nutrition of children's menus. Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found "no meaningful improvements" in kids' menu offerings during the first three years following the launch of the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWell Initiative in 2011, according to the university.

Furthermore, researchers found that, while some chains have removed soda as the default beverage choice on children's menus, other sugar-sweetened drinks including flavored milk and juice have replaced it. Researchers found that sugary drinks made up 80 percent of children's beverage options, according to the study, "Trends in Nutrient Content of Children's Menu Items in U.S. Chain Restaurants," published online in January in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Furthermore, the study says that, in 2011 and 2012, more than one in three children and adolescents consumed fast food every day.

"Although some healthier options were available in select restaurants, there is no evidence that these voluntary pledges have had an industry-wide impact," said the study's lead author Alyssa Moran, a doctoral student in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School. "As public health practitioners, we need to do a better job of engaging restaurants in offering and promoting healthy meals to kids."

Eating a balanced and nutritious diet is essential for oral health. For information from the American Dental Association about which foods are best and worst for dental health and tips on ways to reduce children's sugary snacking, visit MouthHealthy.org/Nutrition.

To see the full Harvard study, visit www.hsph.harvard.edu and search for "Trends in Nutrient Content of Children's Menu Items in U.S. Chain Restaurants."

© 2017 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Tips for a Healthy Diet

  • Foods high in sugar are a particularly common cause of tooth decay. Making these foods a treat rather than a staple will help protect your teeth.

  • To maintain a balanced diet, eat a variety of foods from each of the five major food groups.

  • When choosing a snack, go for nutritious foods such as cheese, raw vegetables, plain yogurt or a piece of fruit.