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Can “Healthy Happy Meals” Help Tackle Childhood Obesity?

Updated: 8/14/21 6:00 amPublished: 9/21/15

Twitter: “Healthy Happy Meals” proposes step towards reducing childhood obesity; new study supports the proposal. 

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine recently published a study that adds support to the “Healthy Happy Meals” bill proposed by a New York City council member last year. If passed, the bill would limit the number of calories, fat, sugar, and sodium in kid meals at fast-food restaurants. “Happy Meals” would also need to include a serving of fruit, vegetables, or whole grain.

The new study found that the vast majority (98%) of meals studied in NYC did not meet the proposed guidelines. Why does that matter? The study estimated that if kid meals followed these healthier guidelines, it could lead to a 9% drop in calories consumed by kids at fast-food restaurants and a 10% drop in calories from fat (assuming people still ate at these fast-food restaurants just as frequently). However, we don’t have a way of knowing if this would result in a drop in overall calories consumed by the children or any impact on obesity.

In light of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, we are happy to see support for measures that could potentially help tackle childhood obesity. Other notable efforts include the city of Davis making water and milk the default beverages for kids meals, attempts to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage intake by the cities of San Francisco and Berkeley, and the Let’s Move! and Partnership for a Healthier America initiatives headed by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Obesity still affects one out of every six children and teens in the US, so widespread and creative approaches are really needed to rewind the trends. As a reminder of what’s at stake, just this past week, our team learned about a three-year-old girl diagnosed with type 2 diabetes – she weighed 77 lbs (35 kg) at diagnosis.

Healthy eating habits are critical to instill at a young age, and the default options in our energy dense food environment routinely steer parents and kids towards poor outcomes. We support good faith efforts like the “Happy Healthy Meals” initiative, and it will be important to see if they have any impact. Click here for tips on creating a healthy home environment for kids. –CA/AJW

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