A new method to monitor the contribution of fast food restaurants to the diets of US children

PLoS One. 2014 Jul 25;9(7):e103543. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0103543. eCollection 2014.


Background: American adults consume 11.3% of total daily calories from foods and beverages from fast food restaurants. The contribution of different types of fast food restaurants to the diets of US children is unknown.

Objective: To estimate the consumption of energy, sodium, added sugars, and solid fats among US children ages 4-19 y by fast food restaurant type.

Methods: Analyses used the first 24-h recall for 12,378 children in the 2003-2010 cycles of the nationally representative National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2003-2010). NHANES data identify foods by location of origin, including stores and fast food restaurants (FFR). A novel custom algorithm divided FFRs into 8 segments and assigned meals and snacks to each. These included burger, pizza, sandwich, Mexican, Asian, fish, and coffee/snack restaurants. The contribution of each restaurant type to intakes of energy and other dietary constituents was then assessed by age group (4-11 y and 12-19 y) and by race/ethnicity.

Results: Store-bought foods and beverages provided 64.8% of energy, 61.9% of sodium, 68.9% of added sugars, and 60.1% of solid fats. FFRs provided 14.1% of energy, 15.9% of sodium, 10.4% of added sugars and 17.9% of solid fats. Among FFR segments, burger restaurants provided 6.2% of total energy, 5.8% of sodium, 6.2% of added sugars, and 7.6% of solid fats. Less energy was provided by pizza (3.3%), sandwich (1.4%), Mexican (1.3%), and chicken restaurants (1.2%). Non-Hispanic black children obtained a greater proportion of their total energy (7.4%), sodium (7.1%), and solid fats (9.5%) from burger restaurants as compared to non-Hispanic white children (6.0% of energy, 5.5% of sodium, and 7.3% of solid fat).

Conclusions: These novel analyses, based on consumption data by fast food market segment, allow public health stakeholders to better monitor the effectiveness of industry efforts to promote healthier menu options.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet / standards*
  • Fast Foods / adverse effects
  • Fast Foods / standards*
  • Food Analysis / methods*
  • Food Quality
  • Humans
  • Nutritive Value*
  • Restaurants*
  • United States

Grant support

This study was funded by a research grant from McDonald’s Corp. to the University of Washington. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.