Fast food consumption increases among 20% of families surveyed, report finds

“The pandemic disrupted many family routines, including where and what they eat,”​ said Gary L. Freed, M.D., M.P.H., poll co-director and Mott pediatrician, who noted the goal of the survey​ was to determine how the pandemic has impacted the eating habits of families based on responses from a nationally-representative sample of 2,019 parents of children aged 3-18.

Fast food acceptable in moderation

While almost all parents agree that fast food is unhealthy for their children, more than four in five feel it is OK in moderation, according to the poll.

“Parents mostly acknowledge that fast food isn’t an ideal choice but see it as an acceptable ‘sometimes food,’”​ Freed noted.

Three-quarters of parents also agreed with the statement that when stressed for time, fast food is a good family meal option. One-third of parents said fast food is good value and 24% feel that it is less expensive than making meals at home and a more convenient option. According to the survey, 40% of parents report being too busy to cook at home, while 20% said they were too stressed.

But when it comes to what parents allow their kids to order at fast food restaurants, a vast majority (88%) allow their kids to order what they want while one in three parents reported reading nutritional information at fast food restaurants. Just over two-thirds (67%) of parents, however, say they encourage their kids to choose the healthier option and limit unhealthy items such as fries and milkshakes.

Fast food consumption varied by parents’ perception of their child’s weight. Parents who said their child was overweight (the report did not specify a specific weight range) were nearly twice as likely to visit a fast food restaurant twice a week vs. parents of children within a normal weight range (33% vs. 17%).

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