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January 20, 2017

Study: 'No meaningful improvement' since U.S. restaurants pledged to make kids' meals healthier

Researchers at Penn Medicine conclude more needs done

A side of sliced apples and juice over soda might not be enough to make a meaningful shift in the nutritional value of U.S. restaurants' kids' meals, a new study found.

To conduct the study, which was published online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on Jan. 11, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed the overall nutrition of children’s meals at restaurant chains across the country from 2012 to 2015.

The goal was to see if kids' meals have actually become more nutritious since the National Restaurant Association launched its voluntary Kids LiveWell Program in 2011. 

Several restaurants across the country at the time, including 15 chains included in the study, took on the pledge. 

The study's finding: “No significant improvements have been made," said senior author Christina Roberto, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medical ethics & health policy at Penn's Perelman School of Medicine.

To gather the findings, researchers used data from the nutrition census MenuStat to track trends in the nutrient content in beverages, entrees, side dishes and desserts offered on children’s menus in 45 of the nation’s top 100 fast-food, fast-casual and full-service restaurant chains, including 15 that made the Kids LiveWell pledge.

As Penn Medicine notes, “While some restaurants have replaced soda as the default beverage in kids’ meals, many of the new selections are still sugar-sweetened and contain just as much sugar as soda.”

Also noted in the study: The average kids’ entrée was found to still far exceed daily limits recommended for sodium and saturated fat.

The researchers said they hope their findings will be a wake-up call to health advocates to push harder on U.S. chain restaurants to do more to improve the nutrition of kids' meals.

In 2011 and 2012, more than 1 in 3 children and adolescents consumed fast food every day, according to the study.

Read more on the study here.

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