Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, spoke recently at the Biennial Childhood Obesity conference in Long Beach about the urgent need to change marketed children's meals for the better.
"It's the worst food on the menu, the worst food in the grocery store," Wootan said of kids' meals. "We need to change things around and make children's meals the best, healthiest meal at a restaurant."
More than 1,800 child advocacy professionals attended the conference, which was sponsored in part by First 5 LA. One of the goals of First 5 LA is that children maintain a healthy weight. In 2011, First 5 LA allocated $41 million to two countywide programs to expand nutrition efforts, increase physical activity among young children, and help reduce the obesity epidemic among nearly 1 million children 0 to 5 and their families in Los Angeles County.
According to Wootan, recent research reveals that 97 percent of restaurant children's meals do not meet nutritional standards.
"In half of restaurant chains, you could not find a single healthy meal for kids," Wootan said.
Then there's the fact that children get one-third of their calories from eating out, Wootan said. Studies link eating out to childhood obesity.
"Of course we're not saying that kids' meals at restaurants are the only cause of childhood obesity, but they are one cause," Wootan said.
Compounding matters, Wootan said, is how these meals are marketed to children. Twenty-seven percent of all television ads children see are for fast food, while fast food chains spend $340 million annually on toy giveaways.
"Studies show that marketing gets children's attention and affects food choices, diet and health," Wootan said.
A key policy change is to pass an ordinance to create nutrition standards for which meals can come with toys, Wootan said. Similar ordinances have been passed in Santa Clara county and San Francisco.
"These kids ordinances are a key tool," Wootan said. "This is not the government telling parents what they should feed their kids. This is about supporting parental responsibility, about helping parents do what they want to do anyway."
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