Healthy Choices

California kids eat fast food regularly, drink less soda

The good news is that overall soda consumption is on the decline among California’s young children. The flip side? A new UCLA survey says kids are still being fed fast food meals on a regular basis.

Though kids’ fast food meals and sodas usually come packaged together, there’s been a sharp decline in kids ages 2 to 5 drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, UCLA researchers said. Ten years ago, about 40 percent of young children drank soda the previous day of the survey. By 2009, that proportion dropped to 16 percent.

But the decrease in soda drinking, seen as a positive by nutritionists, is offset by a steady rate of fast food meal consumption, the survey found. In both 2007 and 2009, about two-thirds of California children ate at least one fast food meal weekly, and about 29 percent ate the meals twice a week or more.

Researchers concerned about childrens’ health say the fast food habit is a factor in rising obesity rates for children. About one-fourth of California kids ages two to five are overweight or obese.

The survey by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research also found that the majority of children fall short of nutritional standards on fruit and vegetable consumption, with 57 percent of parents reporting that their child ate at least five fruit and vegetable servings the previous day.

The breakdown indicates that Asian children have the lowest levels of fruit and vegetable consumption. In Latino communities, 70 percent of kids ages 2 to 5 eat fast food at least once a week, slightly higher than in white families.

California has been at the forefront of efforts to combat obesity and reduce sugary drink consumption for a decade now. The state became the first in the nation to ban the sale of soda in elementary schools. The ban was extended to high schools between 2005 and 2009.

The California Health Interview Survey, on which UCLA based its findings, gathers information on children’s eating bhabits through telephone interview with adults.