Unhappy Meals: Kids LiveWell Program Promotes Fast Food to Children
Fast food is in the news again—and the news is not good.
Yesterday, to great fanfare, the National Restaurant Association launched Kids LiveWell, a new program that supposedly highlights healthful options for children at Burger King, Chili’s, and 17 other restaurant chains with more than 15,000 locations around the country.
This is the fast-food industry’s response to a firestorm of criticism over the contribution its high-fat menus have made to creating our country’s childhood obesity crisis.
But will this new program really help parents identify nutritious choices? Unfortunately, it seems more like a misleading marketing ploy.
Beneath the hype, the program has astonishingly modest requirements. To participate, restaurants need only offer one "healthful" entrée and one "healthful" side dish—every other kids dish on their menus can have as much fat, cholesterol, sugar, and sodium as modern food science can pack into a meal.
And a closer look at the items highlighted by Kids LiveWell shows that many of these supposedly nutritious options are actually far from healthful. Such meaty, high-fat food choices are a key reason why America’s children have never been at higher risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension.
Take Burger King’s BK Kid's Breakfast Muffin Sandwich, for example. This concoction, which Kids LiveWell flags as healthful, consists of sausage, egg, melted cheese, and a buttery English muffin. Pair it with milk and apple fries as Kids LiveWell suggests, and you get a meal that has 100 milligrams of cholesterol and 710 grams of sodium—which exceeds the Institute of Medicine’s recently announced recommended limits on the amount of cholesterol and sodium that children should consume at breakfast.
Kids LiveWell also recommends the grilled chicken at El Pollo Loco—which can increase cancer risk because grilled meats commonly contain carcinogens—as well as a slew of breakfast options that contain bacon and sausage. Such processed meats are so strongly linked with colorectal cancer that no one should ever eat them, according to a new report from the American Institute for Cancer Research.
To be fair, some restaurants are trying harder to offer more healthful kids meals. The Cracker Barrel, for example, is offering a vegetable plate for kids, and Denny’s has a spaghetti marinara. Such low-fat, plant-based choices are a step in the right direction.
But on the whole, the choices highlighted by Kids LiveWell are not foods that will help children stay fit and healthy—and it’s a shame to see the fast-food industry pretending otherwise.