Hamburgers and french fries have long taken the fall for overweight and obesity among Americans and their kids. But researchers found that pizza is doing much more harm.
The study, published last week in the journal Pediatrics, concluded that on the days kids in the study ate pizza, their overall caloric intake was significantly higher than on other days. This was of particular concern since kids are frequently eating pizza. On any given day, 20 percent of kids were eating pizza, the study also found.
The only other food source contributing more calories to kids' daily diets are sweets, such as cakes and cookies.
The study, which looked at what children ages 2 to 19 reported on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in the years 2003 to 2010, found that on days that teens ate pizza at a meal, they consumed 230 extra calories. Children up to age 11 who ate pizza took in 84 extra calories on average. So pizza made up 22 percent of younger children's overall caloric intake and 26 percent of calories taken in by teens.
When pizza was eaten as a snack, the numbers were greater. Teens took in an extra 365 calories and kids an extra 202.
The kind-of-good news in the study is that calories from pizza declined over the years studied and kids are actually taking in fewer calories from pizza now than they were a decade or more ago. Researchers found that between 2003 and 2010, the number of pizza calories decreased 25 percent. So there is such a thing as healthy, or at least healthier, pizza.
No one is calling for a ban of the pies, which no parent is surprised makes up such a significant portion of so many kids' meals. But we might want to shift the kinds of pizza and the size of the slices. “It’s a nice opportunity for us to make some small changes because it’s such a prevalent item in children’s diets. Hopefully we can make healthy pizza the norm,” study co-author Lisa Powell, director of the Illinois Prevention Research Center and professor of health policy and administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago said.
Researchers are encouraging pediatricians to talk about the pizza factor with parents of their patients.