The CDC just released a new study measuring the fast food consumption of American children, and it’s no surprise that a key finding of the study links a child’s fast food habits to the overall quality of his/her diet as well as his/her likelihood of gaining weight as an adult.
The CDC measured fast food consumption in children by focusing on differences like age, weight, race, and poverty status. Although the majority (65.7%) of children and adolescents (ages two-19) in the U.S. consumed no fast food on a daily basis, researchers found that 12.1% consume at least 40% of their daily calories through fast food meals on any given day.
Overall, the study found that caloric intake from fast food increased from 10% to 13% in American children between 1994 and 2006.
But there was one finding in the study that some people have found a bit surprising:
This analysis found no significant differences in fast food consumption by
poverty status or weight status among children and adolescents.
That’s right — there’s no actual connection between a child’s poverty status and the amount of fast food he or she consumes.
This conclusion seems a bit bizarre, considering that multiple studies have previously found that there is a connection between poverty status and the number of times you visit a McDonald’s.
In a 2012 article, the Daily Mail reported that a study from the University of Alberta in Canada found that “young children from poor families are more likely to consume junk food and fizzy drinks than their better off counterparts.”
But an odd part of that study seems to have been glossed over fairly quickly: “The researchers carried out the study by surveying the parents of their participants to find out their dietary habits,” the Daily Mail said.
So is it possible that parents overestimated (or underestimated) the amount of fast food their children ate based on their own fast food eating habits? It seems likely, especially considering that the children with poorer diets spent less time around family and friends and more time playing video games or watching TV.
If any connection does exist between poverty status and fast food consumption, it’s likely the exact opposite of what’s expected. As TIME reported, a 2013 Gallup poll found that people making over $75,000 say they eat fast food more often than those who earn less than $25,000.
One look at the prices of fresh vegetables in the grocery store, compared to the price of a package of cookies, offers a pretty good explanation of how this is possible. And the fact that nearly 70% of American adults are overweight or obese only supports the notion that everyone — regardless of wealth status — can develop poor eating habits.
To use NPR’s words, “fast food is an undeniable part of American culture.” It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are — those salt-soaked fries still taste the same.