LIHUE — Every day, one in three kids in the U.S. eats fast food for at least one meal.
And that, according to a study released this month called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, is both good and bad.
Because that’s about the same percentage of kids eating fast food as in the 1990s, so it’s good it’s not increasing. But it’s not great for health because fast food is considered heavy in calories and food like French fries and pizza contributes to kids being overweight.
But one thing is for sure: Kids like it and most figure they’ll burn off those extra calories.
Tuesday afternoon, lines at Kauai’s fast food joints were long and kids made up a high percentage of patrons. Some youth said they usually only visit fast food places once a day, but for lunch and snacks, vending machines and hot lunch items like pizza are always an option.
Taylor Burroga, 16, said he frequents fast food places up to four times a week.
“It’s an easy place to go after school when you’re hungry,” he said.
Dr. Lee Evslin, a pediatrician who retired from Makai Ola medical clinic in Kapaa last year, said there’s a term that encompasses all of those types of foods and that’s processed food.
“Anything that comes from a box or is manufactured, that’s processed food and those foods aren’t good food,” Evslin said. “It turns out that the average American child is eating an enormous amount of processed food.”
For the study, the CDC asked about 3,100 children ages 2 through 19 — or their parents — what they ate over the previous 24 hours. The survey was done in 2011 and 2012.
The study didn’t give calorie totals, but other government research suggests kids consume about 1,900 calories a day. That means kids average about 245 calories each day from fast food.
Evslin said there is growing evidence that the standard American diet of processed foods causes chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
“There are healthy populations of people all over the world and they don’t have diabetes or obesity and they seem to have less cancer than us,” Evslin said. “Then our food goes in there and those diseases come right behind it.”
The two main culprits are sugar and trans-fats, he said.
“Sugar in processed foods is really bad for us,” Evslin said. “For example, if you drink a soda, there’s so much sugar that your liver can’t process it quickly so it’s turned to fat and deposited as fat.”
Places that serve fast food say they’re increasing healthy options for kids, including McDonald’s, which introduced fresh, whole fruit sides in kids’ meals. It also has added more salads and snack wraps to its menu.
Earlier this year, Burger King removed soda from its kids’ meal and instead included low-fat chocolate milk, fat-free milk and 100 percent apple juice.
Pizza Hut makes available a nutritional information menu so customers can see amounts of calories, sugar and sodium in different pizzas.
On Kauai, kids said they eat fast food between two and four times a week. One said they head to Taco Bell after school and before football practice, maybe two to three times a week.
“I do sports so I don’t eat fast food a lot,” said Bryan Perreira, 17. “Maybe twice a week we’ll come here.”