AMA delegates call for price parity in fast-food options
■ The AMA says restaurants should similarly price nutritious items in children's meals with ones that are less healthy.
Chicago -- Offering healthy items in fast-food children's meals is not enough to help curb the nation's childhood obesity epidemic, the American Medical Association said. Nutritious foods need to be priced similarly with less-healthy options, according to policy adopted by the AMA House of Delegates during its Annual Meeting.
"Fast food companies in the past few years have provided healthier options, but they continue to be offered at a higher price. This discourages families" from purchasing these products, said Christopher Paprzycki, a regional medical student delegate from Toledo, Ohio.
Sue Hensley, a spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Assn., said she was not familiar with a price disparity between unhealthy food and more nutritious options at fast-food restaurants. But, she said, the top trend among such companies in 2010 was to add healthy choices to their children's menus.
Food companies spend nearly $2 billion a year marketing foods and beverages to children, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Many of these products are high in calories, fats, sugars and sodium, said the center, a nonprofit consumer organization focused on nutrition and food safety.
Salem, Mass., cardiologist Mario E. Motta, MD, said the problem is that children do not have the same ability as adults to rationalize that the food being advertised is not good for them.
"I know it's a parent's responsibility [to buy nutritious food]," said Dr. Motta, a member of the AMA Council on Science and Public Health, speaking for himself. "But it's very difficult to say no to children."
Delegates approved policy that directs the AMA to encourage corporate social responsibility in the use of marketing incentives that promote healthy childhood behaviors, including eating nutritious foods.
Delegates also said the AMA should support the fact that parents have a responsibility to encourage their children to eat well-balanced meals.
"Through all aspects of health care, the most expensive diseases in our society are related to the things we put in our mouths. So we should encourage patient responsibility" to the patients we see and to the parents of young children, said Aaron Spitz, MD, a urologist in Laguna Hills, Calif., and a delegate for the American Urological Assn.
Childhood obesity epidemic
The house action comes as about 17% (12.5 million) of the nation's children and adolescents are obese, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 1980, obesity prevalence among this age group almost has tripled, the CDC said.
Communities across the country are addressing the nutritional value of fast-food children's meals.
For example, Santa Clara County in California adopted an ordinance in April 2010 banning restaurants from giving away toys with meals that have more than 485 calories.
In June, fast-food restaurant Jack in the Box, which is based in San Diego, removed toys from its children's meals, said spokesman Brian Luscomb.
Delegates also directed the Association to recognize competitive eating as an unhealthy eating practice with potential adverse consequences.
Jerome Adams, MD, an Indianapolis anesthesiologist and an alternate delegate with the Young Physicians Section, defined speed eating as a subtype of binge eating. He said possible health consequences of competitive eating include stomach rupture.
"Whether it's on TV or at a state fair, speed eating is clearly not a healthy eating habit, even if some people find it entertaining," Dr. Adams said.