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Study: Fast Food Not Biggest Issue Behind Rise In Childhood Obesity Rates

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File photo of a person consuming fast food. (credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

File photo of a person consuming fast food. (credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (CBS Charlotte) - Researchers have learned that, despite some claims to the contrary, fast food is not the leading cause of rising childhood obesity rates in America.

A recent study conducted by a team at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina suggests that fast food consumption is, rather, a symptom of a larger issue. A release on the team’s findings specifies that children eating fast food is “only a small part of a much more pervasive dietary pattern that is fostered at an early age by children’s parents and caregivers.”

“This is really what is driving children’s obesity,” Dr. Barry Popkin, the team’s leader and a distinguished professor of nutrition at UNC, said in the statement. “Eating fast foods is just one behavior that results from those bad habits.”

He added, “Just because children who eat more fast food are the most likely to become obese does not prove that calories from fast foods bear the brunt of the blame.”

For the study – entitled “The association of fast food consumption with poor dietary outcomes and obesity among children: is it the fast food or the remainder of diet?” – those involved poured over data collected between 2007 and 2010 through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The survey collects information regarding both diet and food sources, and it was discovered that parents and caregivers frequently provide children with less healthy meal alternatives.

“Children who rely on fast foods may tend to have parents who do not have the means, desire or time to purchase or prepare healthy foods at home,” Popkin said. “This is really what is driving children’s obesity and what needs to be addressed in any solution.”

According to the Centers for Disease control and Prevention in Atlanta, approximately 17 percent of all children and adolescents in America are considered obese. That figure represents triple the amount of children who were obese one generation ago, the CDC’s official website notes.

The study was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. An abstract version of its findings can be found on the journal’s website.

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