American kids eat far too much pizza, study says

frozen pizza
CC BY 2.0 Mickey Faulkner

It's unfortunate and needs to change, but it's hardly the kids' fault. When are adults going to take responsibility for the pathetic food system that is currently fattening our kids?

Pizza is a great food to enjoy once in a while, but American kids eat far too much of it. According to a recent study published in the medical journal Pediatrics, one kid in five eats pizza every day. Pizza is the leading contributor of caloric intake for kids and teens. (For adults, the equivalent is donuts, cookies, and cake.)

The study, which examined pizza consumption patterns among America’s youth using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2003 and 2010, found that kids take in far more calories on days when they eat pizza – up to 84 extra calories for kids and 230 for adolescents.

When pizza is eaten as a snack, caloric intake climbs an extra 202 calories for kids and 365 for adolescents. Consumption of additional fat and sodium rises 24 and 21 percent, respectively. There is relatively little intake of ‘good’ accompanying nutrients, since pizza is usually consumed on its own, rather than being part of a balanced meal.

Kids don’t compensate for the extra caloric intake by eating less of other foods on days when they’ve had pizza, nor should they be concerned with counting calories at that age. The biggest problem, in my opinion, lies with a food system that makes cheap, greasy pizza so easily available. When pizza is literally everywhere, what can you expect but to have kids and teens eating large amounts of it?

In my son’s kindergarten classroom, for example, pizza and hot dogs are the only options if I want to pay for his lunch to be provided on Fridays. Although I have no issue with him eating pizza on an occasional basis, the school requires me to sign him up for a semester at a time, so I don’t do it.

The study concluded that pizza “consumption should be curbed and its nutrient content improved.” The good news is that healthy pizza is attainable, as long as you make it from scratch and load it up with vegetables. Perhaps schools could mix pizza days with cooking classes in order to really benefit kids, but, sadly, the likelihood of that happening is almost nil.

It’s up to schools and parents to practice what they preach when it comes to teaching good nutritional habits, eliminating the crap from their cafeteria and home menus, and providing fresh, healthy lunches for a change. Then studies like this one wouldn’t even be necessary to get everyone up in arms over excessive pizza consumption, which we all know should only be a treat anyways.

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