This is a plain English summary of an original research article
Children who eat takeaways once or more each week have more body fat and higher low-density lipoprotein (LDL) “bad” cholesterol levels than those who never or hardly ever eat them. Their diets were also higher in fat and lower in protein and calcium.
This cross-sectional study looked in depth at eating habits and risk markers for coronary heart disease, obesity and diabetes in 2,529 children in England. Though this type of study can only show an association between takeaways and risk markers, it is one of the first of its type, and the results do give cause for concern.
Increasing numbers of people are eating takeaways in the UK. Local authorities and healthcare professionals are well placed to encourage parents and children to choose healthier foods, in line with current national guidance.
Why was this study needed?
Childhood obesity rates are increasing in the UK, where one in five children aged 10 to 11 is now obese. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Both type 2 diabetes and being overweight or obese increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Other risk factors include high levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol fats in the blood.
Takeaways tend to have higher fat, sugar and salt levels compared with other foods.
The researchers wanted to find out if eating takeaways were linked with an increase in risk markers for coronary heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes in children.
What did this study do?
This cross-sectional study used data from the Child Heart and Health Study, collected between 2006 and 2007. It involved 1,948 nine to 10-year-old children from 85 primary schools in London, Birmingham and Leicester.
The researchers asked how often children ate takeaways. The children then completed a 24-hour diet recall questionnaire. The researchers measured their height, body fat, skinfold thickness, waist circumference and blood pressure. Finally, they did fasting blood tests for glucose, insulin, HbA1c (a marker of longer-term blood glucose), triglycerides, total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
This was an observational study without any follow up over time, so we can’t say eating takeaways directly causes increased coronary heart disease or diabetes risk markers in children. There may, for example, have been other factors in these families’ environment of lifestyles that also impact health.
What did it find?
- A total of 499 children (26%) never or hardly ever ate a takeaway, 894 (46%) ate a takeaway less than once a week and 555 (28%) ate a takeaway once a week or more.
- In children who ate a takeaway once or more per week, the average LDL cholesterol level was 2.68mmol/L compared with 2.58mmol/L in children who never or hardly ever ate takeaway meals (mean difference 0.10mmol/L, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.02 to 0.18).
- The fat mass index was 5.06% higher (95% CI 0.53% to 9.79%) in children who ate takeaways once or more per week compared with those who never or hardly ever ate takeaways (2.01kg/m2 versus 2.11kg/m2). The fat mass index is similar to body mass index but is calculated by the amount of body fat divided by height squared and not total weight.
- Skinfold thickness was 6.14mm higher (95% CI 0.05 to 12.60) in children who ate takeaways once or more a week compared with those who never or hardly ever ate them.
- Children who ate takeaways once or more per week ate on average 228 calories more each day than those who never or rarely ate takeaways. Their diets also had higher total fat, saturated fat and monounsaturated fat, and lower starch, protein and calcium.
What does current guidance say on this issue?
NICE 2015 guidance recommends that local authorities maintain an up-to-date list of local lifestyle weight management programmes and make it available to the public. Healthcare professionals should ensure they are aware of the lifestyle weight management programmes for children and young people in their area and how to enrol people on them.
They also recommend local authorities limit the number of takeaways near schools and restrict their opening hours within current laws.
NICE 2016 guidelines recommend healthcare professionals provide dietary advice to children and young people with type 2 diabetes and their family members or carers.
What are the implications?
The results of this study lend further weight to the argument for local authorities to restrict takeaway access for children. Though the differences in LDL cholesterol, fat mass index and skinfold thickness appear small, it is not a huge leap to consider the cumulative effects of a poor diet and takeaways over a sustained period.
The results should be included in public health campaigns to inform parents of the potential risks of regular takeaway consumption. Local authorities already have the ability to regulate the number of takeaways in their communities.
Citation and Funding
Donin AS, Nightingale CM, Owen CG, et al. Takeaway meal consumption and risk markers for coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity in children aged 9-10 years: a cross-sectional study. Arch Dis Child. 2017. [Epub ahead of print].
Donin AS was supported by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care, South London and by Diabetes UK (BDA 11/0004317). Data collection in the CHASE study was supported by grants from the Wellcome Trust (068362/Z/02/Z) and the UK Medical Research Council National Prevention Research Initiative (NPRI) (G0501295). The funding partners for this NPRI award were: British Heart Foundation; Cancer Research UK, Department of Health; Diabetes UK; Economic and Social Research Council; Research and Development Office for the Northern Ireland Health and Social Services; Chief Scientist Office, Scottish Executive Health Department; and Welsh Assembly Government.
NHS website. Diabetes. London: Department of Health and Social Care; updated 2016.
NHS website. High cholesterol. London: Department of Health and Social Care; updated 2018.
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NICE. Cardiovascular disease prevention. London: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence; 2010.
NICE. Diabetes (type 1 and type 2) in children and young people: diagnosis and management. London: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence; 2016.
NICE. Obesity in children and young people: prevention and lifestyle weight management programmes. London: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence; 2015.
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