America is still a fast food nation. Despite growing concern for childhood obesity and all the negativity that surrounds fast food culture (chicken filled with antibiotics, anyone?), the number of kids eating fries, pizza, burgers and other favorites is still alarming.
On any given day, about 1 in 3 kids age 2 to 19 in the U.S. consume fast food. According to a new CDC study, kids consumed on average 12.4 percent of their daily calories from fast food restaurants from 2011 to 2012. And teens are more likely to consume fast food compared to children ages 2–11. (Maybe because they're young and invincible?)
The numbers aren't too far off from what the CDC reported in 2013 for adults, who got about 11 percent of their calories from fast food from 2007 to 2010. The rate of fast-food consumption hasn't budged in the last 15 years.
There are so many reasons families eat fast food. It's convenient, cheap and—admit it—fries are just so damn addicting.
But it's hard to break bad habits when you start them as kids.
"We're programmed to seek sweet and salty foods, and fast food knows how to pander to those cravings," says pediatrician Stephen Pont at Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas, who is chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics section on obesity, to NPR.
But things seem to be getting a little better. Fast-food restaurants have introduced menu items that are on average 60 calories lower. McDonald's, for instance, downsized its Happy Meal portions; more and more restaurants are displaying calorie counts on menus; there have even been bans on sale of sodas larger than 16 ounces.
Even chain stores are taking a hint. Walmart has been offering more organic food items; Kohl is making room for in-store athletic displays; and Target recently announced that it's beginning to replace junk food at the checkout counter with healthier food options.
"There's both a huge business opportunity here and a bit of a moral imperative," said Christina Hennington, Target's SVP of merchandising. "Our ultimate goal is to improve the health of the nation."