Obesity is quickly becoming one of the nation's top health concerns. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in every three American adults and one in every six American children are now obese, putting them at risk for health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Scientists generally agree that obesity is caused by a combination of factors, including genetics, lack of physical activity and high caloric intake.
Many feel that our country's reliance on fast food is also a contributing factor in the obesity epidemic. Fast food menus are typically high in fat and added sugars, which increase the amount of calories in a meal. Portion sizes have grown steadily over the years, further prompting people to consume more calories than necessary. Moreover, fast food companies spend billions to market their products—sometimes directly to children, who are not prepared to consider the health effects of consuming high-fat, high-sugar foods. Under pressure from consumers and public health experts, fast food restaurants have begun offering more healthy food choices—but many children's meals still do not conform to the dietary guidelines encouraged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The USDA's MyPlate initiative is a simple set of guidelines about healthy eating. The guidelines recommend that people eat a variety of foods from the five food groups: vegetables, fruits, protein foods, dairy and grains. About half of a person's plate should be taken up with fruit and vegetables, and about half of a person's daily grain serving should be whole grains (like whole wheat bread) rather than refined grains (like white bread). The USDA also recommends limiting "empty calories"—calories that are not accompanied by vitamins and minerals. Finally, the USDA website contains recommendations for the number of calories that children and adults in different age brackets should aim to consume. Students should follow these recommendations as they create their healthy fast food children's meals.