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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Text Page for "Too Much Fast Food Spells "Fat Food!"

Too Much Fast Food Spells "Fat Food"

When a person gains 30 pounds or more over their healthy body weight, they're considered obese ("oh-BEESE"). That extra weight would be like picking up a 30-pound pile of rocks, dumping it in your backpack, and carrying it around with you all the time. Imagine how exhausted you'd be.

An obese person does that every day. All that extra weight is like wearing a backpack full of rocks all the time, even to bed at night. The unhealthy news is this: about 35 out of every 100 children in the United States are either obese or overweight.

But in the past, fewer kids were obese or fat, says Shanthy Bowman, in the Agricultural Research Service's Community Nutrition Research Group, Beltsville, MD. A nutritionist ("noo-TRISH shun-ist") there, she's an expert on good foods and healthy diets. In a special study, Bowman looked at the eating habits of more than 6,000 kids in the United States on 2 days during 1 year. She noticed that on the days when kids ate fast food, they swallowed 187 more calories. Calories are units that are used to measure how much energy a particular food has in it. The calories in a food provide you with energy after you eat the food. Different nutrients in foods provide different amounts of calories.

If you eat more calories than your body uses for energy to power everything you do, the extra calories are turned into body fat. Each extra pound of fat equals 3,200 extra calories eaten. Bowman found that on the days when kids ate fast foods, they also ate more fat, more sugar and more carbohydrates ("car-bo-HI-drates"). Carbohydrates are foods that turn into sugars during digestion.

So guess what? The kids who ate fast foods ate more calories, overall. Kids often ate those high-calorie foods instead of lower-calorie, nutritious fruits and vegetables. What's really important is that Dr. Bowman found that many of the fast-food-eating kids were gaining about six extra pounds in just one year. That means those fast-food eating kids have a good chance of ending up overweight or obese as the years go by.

During the last 30 years, the number of fast-food restaurants more than doubled nationwide. They're almost everywhere now. During the same time, some experts say the amount of fast foods that U.S. kids eat has gone up five times! That's big news since kids are becoming obese.

Kids who don't eat enough fruits and vegetables are more likely to not only become obese, but also develop serious health problems that grown-ups mostly used to get. These include heart disease and diabetes ("die-uh-BEE-tees"). Diabetes develops when there is too much sugar in the body that doesn't get used for energy. You might think of it like syrup running through blood veins; it can't get burned into energy, so it sits around and makes people sick. Adding plenty of fruits and colorful vegetables to your daily diet may protect you against gaining too much weight ... and help keep you healthy and energized for all of the things you like to do.

-- By Rosalie Marion Bliss, Agricultural Research Service, Information Staff

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Last Modified: 2/14/2011
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