Fast Food, Fat Children

fast food
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 23 percent - roughly one in four American children - are overweight. A new book is out that, among other things, blames much of the increase in child obesity on the fast food industry. CBS News Correspondent Thalia Assuras reports.

"Obesity has become an epidemic among children," says Mary Savoye, a research dietician at Yale University's Pediatric Clinic. "Type II diabetes was something people got when they were 40, because they were overweight. Now 10,11,12-year-olds... these kids that are overweight are at very high risk for diabetes."

It's a scene that is repeated in millions of households every day. Karen Fragala, who lives in Queens, New York, is taking her daughter Gabriella, son Joey, and nephew Gary to the drive thru. On the menu today?

"Chicken McNugget and a Sprite please."

The Fragalas have been going to McDonald's three times a week, until recently.

Says Karen Fragala, "We went to the doctor in December and then went for a re-check in March and he said she gained 9 pounds."

Six-year-old Gabrielle's 9-pound weight gain in just 4 months convinced Karen Fragala that is was time to start cutting back on French fries.

"I can see it in her in the last 3 or 4 months, but I feel, 'cause she's pretty active, that it's more the food," she says.

It's that connection between fast food and obesity that is the one of the primary criticisms of the industry in a new book, "Fast Food Nation", written by Eric Schlosser.

Says he, "If you look at the rise of the obesity rate in the United States, it's grown pretty much in step with the rise of fast-food consumption... and now it's the second-leading cause of death in the United States, after smoking."

How can he say, though, that obesity is linked to the fast food industry?

"There's no question that fast food, especially the popular fast food, is extremely high in fat," Schlosser says.

A Big Mac, Super Size fries and a large Coke at McDonalds now contains 1500 calories, about 40 percent of those from fat.

CBS asked McDonald's to respond to Schlosser's charges, but they declined an on-camera interview... instead sending this statement:

"His opinion is outvoted 45 million to one every single day, because that's how many customers choose to come to McDonald's for our menu of variety, value and quality."

Most people like to have a burger and fries every so often. Doesn't Schlosser?

"Well, I used to," says Schlosser. "I mean, I love hamburgers. There's no problem with a healthy adult wanting to eat this food every now and then. But the real problem for me is how this food is so heavily marketed to children."

He explains, "It started innocently enough, giving a toy with the meal, playgrounds, there are good things about it. But these are very, very crucial years. If you look at the ingredients of the fast food meals that are being heavily marketed to children, they're extremely high in fat, and higin sugar, and high in salt."

Fast food companies don't have to produce burgers that contain 75 grams of fat, which are way beyond what anybody needs. It doesn't have to be that way, so why do they do it?

"They don't have too deal with the long-term consequences of the food," says Schlosser. "If they did, they might change the menu. They've also spent millions of dollars creating a taste for these foods. So all of a sudden it's very difficult for them to say, 'Wait a minute! The food we've been marketing and selling for decades may not be so healthy.' They really don't have the incentive to do that right now. So it's up to the consumers to give them the incentive."

Among the recommendations in his book: Schlosser says Congress should ban all fast food advertising to children under the age of 9.

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