Published 12:04 am Saturday, June 2, 2012


A n apple a day doesn’t always keep the doctor away – at least, not when it’s part of an otherwise unhealthy kids’ meal, according to a new report released Friday by the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The findings come nearly a year after major restaurant chains pledged to make kids’ meals healthier and shows that several menu items targeted to children are still loaded with sodium, sugar and cholesterol – putting children at risk for obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases.

John Newsome, dietician at Andalusia Regional Hospital, said parents should educate themselves, and their children, about the risks of eating fast food.

“We need to emphasize the fact that fried, deep fried entrées and French fries are not good selections because of the fat and cholesterol content,” Newsome said. “I would love to see children eat more salads, fruits and vegetables.

“Plus, the idea of super-sizing a meal is not good,” he said. “Children and adults eat far more food than they really need. It may seem like a bargain to super-size, but a heart attack, cancer and diabetes is not cheap.

“We all must focus on moderation as well as cultivating a taste for all foods so that we are eating a balanced diet,” he said.

Restaurants are increasingly marketing “healthy” versions of kids’ meals, but often these meals feature the same unhealthy entrées paired with healthier sides, like apple slices instead of French fries.

“Along with those apple slices, kids are still getting cholesterol-laden chicken, artery-clogging cheeseburgers, and cancer-promoting processed meats,” the report stated. “Reduced-fat and fat-free plain or chocolate milk is often offered as a “healthier” beverage option, but it still contributes to a meal’s overall cholesterol and sugar counts.”

And while it can be difficult with today’s fast-paced, activity-filled lives when convenience oftentimes wins out over being health conscientious, the report said parents should avoid the following five meal options:

• Chick-fil-A’s kids’ grilled nuggets kids’ meal;

• McDonald’s cheeseburger Happy Meal;

• Sonic kids’ Jr. Burger meal;

• Burger King’s hamburger kids’ meal; and,

• Denny’s Build Your Own Jr. Grand Slam.

A dietician’s analysis showed the Chick-fil-A meal contains the same amount of cholesterol as a Big Mac, while the McDonald’s meal contains more sodium than 13 orders of McDonald’s kids’ fries. The report stated the Sonic meal contained more sugar than two Twinkies; that the Burger King meal contains almost as much cholesterol as six slices of pork bacon; and that the Denny’s meal contains almost 100 more milligrams of sodium than the government recommends children consume at breakfast.

PCRM dietitians, who analyzed the kids’ meals, also found that in many cases fast food chains simply added healthier sides, like apple slices, to the same unhealthy entrée in order to market the meal as “healthy.”

“It isn’t a healthy meal if the cheeseburger’s still on the plate,” said PCRM nutrition education director Susan Levin, M.S., R.D. “Fast food companies are trying to pull the wool over parents’ eyes by adding apple slices to a fat-loaded meal. Even the Chick-fil-A grilled chicken nuggets meal has as much cholesterol as a Big Mac.”

July marks the one-year anniversary of the Kids LiveWell campaign, a high-profile initiative launched by the National Restaurant Association, where 49 restaurant chains, including Burger King, Sonic and Chick-fil-A, pledged to offer and promote healthier kids meals. McDonald’s does not participate in Kids LiveWell, but last July, the fast food giant also announced plans to make its Happy Meals more nutritious by introducing apple slices and smaller packets of French fries as side dish options in Happy Meals.

To read the report in its entirety, visit