A new study of the nutritional quality of meals for children on the menus of the nation’s largest chain restaurants has found that 91 percent do not even meet the standards set by the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program.
An even larger percentage — 97 percent of restaurant children’s meals — failed to meet stricter standards developed by a panel of nutrition and health experts for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the nonprofit research and advocacy group that commissioned the study.
“These were pretty dismal results,” said Margo G. Wootan, the center’s director of nutrition policy.
A similar study the center did in 2008 found that 99 percent of restaurant meals offered for children did not meet the standards. Wootan said she had expected a more significant improvement, particularly since many restaurant chains have been promoting their healthier options for youngsters.
“It’s one thing if they had gone from 99 percent unhealthy to 50-50,” she said. “But to go from 1 percent of kids’ meals being healthy to 3 percent over four years — it’s as if the restaurant industry hasn’t heard there is an obesity epidemic in this country.”
The Kids LiveWell program has 120 restaurant chains as participants. It requires that at least one children’s meal have two servings of fruits or vegetables, whole grains and a low-fat dairy product and have fewer than 600 calories.
There are 342 meal options that meet the criteria among the first 19 chains that signed onto the program, according to the association.