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Eat, drink and be merry?

14 April 2009 Springer Science+Business Media

Fast food and soft drinks may be making children fatter but they also
make them happy. Programs aimed at tackling childhood obesity, by
reducing children's consumption of unhealthy food and drink, are likely
to be more effective if they also actively seek to keep children happy
in other ways, according to Professor Hung-Hao Chang from National
Taiwan University and Professor Rodolfo Nayga from the University of
Arkansas in the US. Their findings are published in Springer's Journal
of Happiness Studies.

Childhood obesity is a major public health issue worldwide. It is well
accepted that unhealthy eating patterns are partly responsible for the
increase in childhood obesity. However, very little is known about the
relationship between fast food and soft drink consumption and children's
happiness.

For the first time, Chang and Nayga looked at the relationship between
unhealthy dietary habits and children's psychological health. In
particular, they studied the effects of fast food and soft drink
consumption on children's body weight and unhappiness. Using data from
the National Health Interview Survey in Taiwan - a nationwide survey
carried out in 2001 - the authors looked at the fast food and soft drink
consumption, body weight and level of happiness of 2,366 children aged
between 2 and 12 years old. Fast food included French fries, pizza and
hamburgers; soft drinks included soda and other sugar-sweetened
beverages.

A quarter of the children in the survey sample were overweight or obese
and approximately 19 percent sometimes or often felt unhappy, sad or
depressed. The study's key finding was that children who ate fast food
and drank soft drinks were more likely to be overweight, but they were
also less likely to be unhappy. The authors' analysis also highlighted
a number of factors influencing children's body weight, eating patterns
and happiness. For example, mothers' consumption of fast food and soft
drinks predicted her child's eating habits. Those children who ate fast
food were more likely to also consume soft drinks. Children from lower
income households were more likely to have unhealthy dietary habits and
be overweight or obese.

The authors conclude: "Our findings suggest that consumption of fast
food and soft drinks can result in a trade-off between children's
objective (i.e. obesity) and subjective (i.e. unhappiness) well-being.
Policies and programs that aim to improve children's overall health
should take these effects on children's objective and subjective
well-being into account to facilitate the reduction in childhood obesity
without sacrificing children's degree of happiness."

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