One-Third of U.S. Kids & Teens Eat Fast Food Daily

Adolescents are downing junk on the daily. 

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Kids and teens (and their parents as supporters-slash-chauffeurs) are constantly on the move. It’s a rarity to find a student who goes home immediately after school, and actually stays there until the start of the next day. With all of their activities and responsibilities, it can be a struggle for families to sit down for a healthy, home-cooked meal on a regular basis.

Enter: fast food. It’s quick, it’s easy, and we can trick ourselves into thinking it’s healthy as long as we sprinkle some protein powder in that extra-large cookies-and-cream milkshake.

But we’re foolish to believe that our bodies and brains aren’t suffering from our dietary choices. As a nation, it’s about time we cut back on processed food consumption.   

The Centers for Disease Control asked more than 3,000 kids and teens to identify everything they had eaten over the past 24 hours, and found that one-third of U.S. youth ages 2-19 eat fast food everyday, regardless of family income level.  

The survey also found that kids and adolescents get about 12 percent of their daily calories from fast food, a figure that has held steady for a decade—consistent with the childhood obesity rate, which has stabilized at 17 percent over the past 10 years.

“At least we’re not seeing it go up,” said CDC report author Cheryl Fryar. But complacency isn’t the game we should be playing here, especially when this news is paired with a recently published report from Friends of the Earth. Titled “Chain Reaction,” it outlines and evaluates how America’s most popular fast food restaurants—including Applebee's, Chipotle, and McDonald's—rate based on the reduction of antibiotics in their meat and poultry supply. In the report’s scorecard featuring 25 fast food restaurants, only five receive a passing grade for antibiotics policies and sourcing practices.

And that’s just the meat of these on-the-go meals! Don’t even get us started on the health risks of soda, sugar, and fat.

For tips on choosing the healthiest fast food options, refer to this survival kit, and see the nutrition section of our brand new, staff-curated health resource list for teens