By Alvin Tran
Parents, if you want to prevent your kids from eating too many extra calories, you might want to think twice about letting them have that "just one more" slice of chewy dough, tangy tomato sauce and glistening melted cheese.
In a new study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that pizza contributed to children and adolescents consuming more calories, saturated fat, and sodium in their usual diet.
“They’re taking in substantially more nutrients we really want to be thinking about limiting,” said Lisa Powell, PhD, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor of health policy and administration and the study’s lead author.
Powell’s study, which analyzed 24-hour dietary recalls of more than 12,000 kids over a 7-year period, found that children between the ages of 2 and 11 consumed an extra 84 calories on the days they ate pizza, while adolescents consumed an extra 230 calories.
It’s not a good idea to eat pizza as a snack.Lisa Powell, PhD
They also consumed significantly more sodium and saturated fat, which nutrition and health experts often dub the “bad fat.”
There is a silver lining, however. Children’s overall caloric intake from pizza declined by 25 percent over the course of the study. The study’s adolescent population, which ranged from ages 12 and 19, also demonstrated similar trends: its caloric intake from pizza fell by 22 percent.
But while the number of calories that adolescents consumed dropped, their overall consumption, on average, did not significantly change over the course of the study. According to Powell and her co-authors, this may be due to a slight increase in pizza consumption.
“The average adolescent takes in 620 calories of pizza. By showing that they consume this extra 230 calories, that means that on days they consume pizza, they’re not adequately adjusting the caloric intake and other things they take in that day,” Powell said. “They may be eating pizza but they’re having this additional 230 calories that they’re taking in.”
Overall, pizza consumption remained highly prevalent across both groups. In 2009 to 2010, 20 percent of children and 23 percent of adolescents consumed pizza on a given day.
Powell and her colleagues also found that consuming pizza as a snack or from fast-food restaurants were the two greatest culprits influencing both children and adolescents’ overall daily calorie intake.
“It’s not a good idea to eat pizza as a snack. That’s one thing that teens and parents should keep in mind,” Powell said.
Despite her study’s findings, Powell isn’t necessarily advising parents to completely eliminate pizza from their kids’ meals. “When you do eat it, maybe eat less of it,” she said, suggesting that parents could also pair pizza with a side salad to prevent their children from eating that extra slice.
Powell adds that her study’s findings also have major implications for members of the food industry. In a phone interview, she specifically called on food producers, companies, and restaurants to improve the nutrient content of their pizza through various methods, such as reducing the saturated fat and sodium content.
“Because of the fact that pizza is so highly prevalent among children and adolescents, by making some small changes food companies and restaurants could have quite broad reach in terms of improving children’s diet in the U.S.,” Powell said.
The study is titled "Energy and Nutrient Intake From Pizza in the United States" and the abstract is here. Parents, reactions?