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Americans cut back on fast food, but why?

American adults got 11 percent of their daily calories from fast food in 2010, down from about 13 percent four years earlier, a new study shows. Public education may have played a role, but so have pocketbook issues.

By Husna HaqCorrespondent / February 21, 2013

In this June 2011 file photo, first lady Michelle Obama tends the White House garden in Washington, with a group of children as part of the 'Let's Move!' campaign.

Evan Vucci/AP/File

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Whether it’s the economy, public education about fast food, or first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, Americans appear to be cutting back on fast food.

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American adults are consuming about 11 percent of their daily calories from fast food in 2010, down from almost 13 percent in 2006, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While overall caloric intake has not changed for American adults, the drop in fast food consumption has coincided with a leveling of obesity rates among adults.

“The drop is significant, statistically,” says one of the study’s lead authors, Cheryl Fryar, a health statistician with the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the CDC. “Historically a lot of fast food has been high in fat, high in sodium … and frequent fast food consumption is linked to weight gain.”

A separate report from the CDC found more good news among youths: American children and adolescents consumed fewer calories in 2010 than they did a decade before, the first decline in caloric intake among children in more than 40 years.

Americans have long had a troubled relationship with diet and weight – two-thirds of American adults are considered overweight or obese, and about 17 percent of youths are considered obese – and the CDC’s reports offered hope to many in the nutrition and health fields. 

“It’s a trend in the right direction,” says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. “That’s good news. This is a cause for mild celebration.”

Among the studies’ findings:

• During 2007-2010, adults consumed 11.3 percent of total daily calories from fast food, on average, compared with 12.8 percent between 2003-2006.

• Blacks consumed more of their calories from fast food than did whites or Hispanics: 15 percent compared to 11 percent.

• Young adults ages 20 to 39 also consumed higher rates of fast food than Americans 60 and over: 15 percent compared with 11 percent.

• Young black adults ages 20 to 39 had the highest rates of fast food consumption; they got 21 percent of their calories from fast food.

• Calorie consumption for boys ages 2 to 19 dropped 7 percent between 1999 and 2010, from 2,260 calories per day to 2,100.

• Girls’ calorie consumption dropped 4 percent over the same period, from 1,830 calories to 1,760.

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