Submitted to: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/24/2008
Publication Date: 11/1/2008
Citation: O'Donnell, S.I., Hoerr, S.L., Mendoza, J.A., Tsuei-Goh, E. 2008. Nutrient quality of fast food kids meals. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 88(5):1388-1395. Interpretive Summary: Exposure of children to kid’s meals at fast food restaurants is high; however, the nutrient quality of these meals has not been systematically assessed. Our research examined the nutrient content of every type of fast food kid meal offered in a major metropolitan area (Houston, Texas). The nutrient quality of the meals was compared to the nutrient requirements for National School Lunch Program, lunch meals offered to young children (6 to 8 years old). The research found that 3% of the meals offered by fast food companies met the National School Lunch Program standards. Those that met all seven standards offered a side of fruit plus milk. Most were deli-sandwich-based meals. Kid meals that did not meet all standards were more than 1.5 times more energy dense than those that did meet all standards. Fast food companies are not required to meet these standards and finding a small percentage of meals that met all was encouraging. Forty-two percent of all kids’ meals met four or more out of seven standards. The results suggest that fast food kids’ meals can be designed to be both enjoyable and meet a basic level of nutrient quality.
Technical Abstract: Exposure of children to kids’ meals at fast food restaurants is high; however, the nutrient quality of such meals has not been systematically assessed. We assessed the nutrient quality of fast food meals marketed to young children, i.e., "kids meals". The nutrient quality of kids’ meals was assessed primarily by using criteria from the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Analysis compared the nutrient values of meals offered by major fast food companies with restaurants in Houston, TX, with complete publicly available data. Data described every combination of meals offered in the target market. For each meal combination, the following were analyzed: total energy, percentage of energy from fat, total fat, saturated fat, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, added sugars, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, energy density (food only), and the number of NSLP nutrient criteria met. Three percent of kids’ meals met all NSLP criteria. Those that met all criteria offered a side of fruit plus milk. Most were deli-sandwich-based meals. Meals that met the criteria had about one-third the fat, one-sixth the added sugars, twice the iron, and 3 times the amount of vitamin A and calcium as did kids meals that did not meet the criteria (P=<0.001). Meals that did not meet the NSLP criteria were more than 1.5 times more energy dense than those that did meet the criteria (P<0.001). Kids’ meals that met the NSLP criteria are uncommon and are lower in energy density. These meals may contribute to the nutritional status of children.