Pizza is a beloved part of the American diet, whether in school lunchrooms, party places, a dorm diet staple or a way to satisfy office staff working late. While a convenient and popular choice, there is concern about how much of it is eaten, particularly by children and adolescents. In fact, many researchers are now suggesting that doctors address pizza consumption when talking to patients and parents, and that a reduction of slices eaten be encouraged.
Researcher concerns about the high calorie, saturated fat and salt content in pizza have led to new studies on consumption. They have also recommended that pizza be considered as bad for people as sugary drinks and other empty calorie/low nutritional value items.
On the surface, pizza looks like balanced meal. There is dairy, fruits and vegetables (tomato sauce as well as any veggies strewn on top), breads and grains and, if desired, meat. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of fat.
To figure out how much pizza young people in the U.S. eat, researchers with the Illinois Prevention Research Center looked at questionnaires about the diets of two groups from 2003 through 2010. They specifically reviewed data about kids ages 2 to 11 and teens ages 12 to 19 for the study that was published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
The researchers did find some good news. They determined that the number of calories consumed by the children from pizza actually decreased 25 percent between 2003 and 2010. But the food remains a common part of children’s diets; on days when the kids ate pizza, it made up about 20 percent of their calories. Furthermore, in the latter years studied, pizza was the number two source of solid fat intake. (Desserts, like cookies, donuts and pie, ranked as the top fatty food consumed.)
The research team also found that, on the days when children eat pizza, they wound up consuming more saturated fats, salt and calories than would be consumed on other days. Based on the data, they found that teens ate approximately 230 extra calories and younger children took in an 84 extra calories on days when they dined on pizza versus days when they did not have any slices of pie.
How much pizza are kids really eating these days? Studies have shown that children eat pizza more frequently than adults, and that it is one of the greatest sources of calories for children. In fact, they consume 136 calories per day from pizza, on average, according to the data.
As a result of their findings, the researchers recommend that doctors and nutritionists discuss pizza consumption with parents and limit kids to no more than two slices. The study team also recommended pairing piece with other things, like salad, and put healthy things on the pizza. “Given that pizza remains a highly prevalent part of children’s diet, we need to make ‘healthy’ pizza the norm,” according to Lisa Powel, director of the Illinois center and study co-author.
The bottom line on this and other research is that many foods are eaten too often and the portions consumed are too large. To address the problem, people do not have to avoid pizza completely for their children or themselves. Instead, the researchers encourage a reduction in the amount of pizza consumption and that people try to get children to eat healthier types of pizza or at least healthier toppings.
By Dyanne Weiss