Fast-food burgers. Sugary breakfast cereals. Bologna sandwiches. Those meals might be tasty for kids and appealing to parents for their convenience.
Now, those and other so-called ultraprocessed foods make up an ever-increasing share of the calories consumed by young children and teenagers. That’s the upshot of a long-term study by Tufts University researchers who tracked the eating habits of more than 33,000 children and adolescents for nearly 20 years.
Ultraprocessed foods are typically laden with sugar and salt and contain less fiber than minimally processed foods. The researchers found that, as a percentage of all food consumed by children, ultraprocessed foods account for 67% those calories — up from 61% when the study began.
Among the ultraprocessed foods that were trending with the study’s participants: Pre-made burgers, frozen pizza, ready-to-eat meals and takeout food.
The researchers also identified racial and ethnic disparities in the ultraprocessed food trends. The consumption of those foods increased nearly twice as much for non-Hispanic Blacks as it did among non-Hispanic whites. For Mexican-Americans, consumption increased about 50% more than non-Hispanic whites.
What the scientists did not find were disparities in ultraprocessed food consumption based on family income and parental education. That, they said, shows the pervasiveness of those foods in children’s diets.
Still, the news isn’t all troubling: Kids are drinking far fewer sweetened beverages. Sugary drinks accounted for 5.3% of all calories consumed — less than half of what it was at the start of the study.
So, parents beware: Meals that are easy for you might not be so good for your kids.