California's young children appear to be getting early introductions to the taste -- and perhaps the perils -- of fast food, according to a new study by UCLA's Center for Health Policy Research.
The study found that 60 percent of California's children between the ages of 2 and 5 had eaten fast food at least once in the previous week -- and it climbed to 70 percent among Latino children, the state's largest ethnic cohort.
"A weekly happy meal is an unhappy solution, especially for toddlers," Susan Holtby, the study's lead author," said in a statement accompanying release of the report. "Hard-working, busy parents need support to make healthy food selections for their kids."
The 60 percent figure is actually a few percentage points lower than a previous study covering 2007-09.
The results were taken from the California Health Interview Survey, aimed at examining the nutritional practices of children and their parents.
Among other findings:
- Asian children eat the fewest fruits and vegetables of any ethnic group, with only 40 percent consuming at least five servings a day, the recommended level, well under the 57 percent recorded for all children.
- Parents of children in the state's poorest families, those below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, are the least likely of all parents to say they have "a lot" of influence over their children's food intake.
- Children who ate three or more fast food meals a week were "much more likely" to drink sugary sodas than children who ate less fast food.
The results, researchers said, indicate that targeted messages are needed to persuade parents both to exert more control over their children's diets and to make those diets healthier.
"Simple messages and programs can reinforce what every parent wants -- the good health of their children," Camille Maben, executive director of First 5 California, said in a statement. "This shows there is more work to be done to reach families with the critical education and support they need."
First 5 California commissioned the UCLA study.
PHOTO: A young girl on a scooter passes by three fast-food restaurants on Elk Grove Blvd. in Elk Grove on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench