Children who regularly eat take-away meals may be increasing their risk factors for heart disease, suggests new research.

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calendar-icon 13 December 2017


Experts at St George’s, University of London also say these youngsters are also more likely to be consuming too many calories and fewer vitamins and minerals than children who eat home cooked food.

In the UK, the consumption of ‘take-aways’ rose by more than a quarter between 1996 and 2006 alone, a pattern of behaviour that has been made even easier with the increasing number of outlets in neighbourhoods as well as the advent of online apps and dedicated meal delivery services, say the researchers.

The available evidence indicates that among adults, a high take-away count is associated with poorer quality diet, more body fat, and heart disease. And the researchers wanted to find out if a similar diet in children might be storing up similar problems.

They therefore quizzed nearly 2,000 ethnically diverse 9-10 year olds from 85 primary schools in London, Birmingham and Leicester about their usual diets, including the source of their meals, and how often they ate take-away meals.

One in four children (499; 26%) said they never or rarely ate take-away meals; nearly half (894; 46%) said they ate a take-away less than once a week; and 555 (28%) said they ate this type of meal at least once a week.

The children’s height, weight, waist circumference, skinfold thickness, and body fat composition (bioelectrical impedance) were all measured. Their blood pressure was taken, as well as a blood sample to discover levels of circulating blood fats (total and low: high density cholesterol).

There were no differences in blood pressure or insulin resistance between those who regularly ate take-aways and those who didn’t. But skinfold thickness, body fat composition, and cholesterol all tended to be higher in regular consumers of take-aways. The differences in blood fats were similar across all ethnic groups.

Dr Angela Donin, a Lecturer in Epidemiology, of the Population Health Research Institute, St George’s, University of London, explained: “These results indicate that children eating takeaway meals frequently may be increasing their risk of disease in the future, and that these meals are less likely to be containing all the important nutrients growing children need for their health”.

“We need to consider the food environment in our neighbourhoods and improve the healthy food options that are available, which are both quick and affordable for families”.

The findings of the research, funded through National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) South London, are published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

The schools taking part in the study were part of the Child Heart and health Study in England (CHASE), which looked at the potential prompts for heart disease in pre-teens from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds.