About A Third Of U.S. Kids And Teens Ate Fast Food Today : The Salt Kids' fast-food habits haven't budged in the past 15 years, a study by the CDC finds. The marketing, cost and taste of fast food still seem to have a hold on America's youth.

About A Third Of U.S. Kids And Teens Ate Fast Food Today

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Fast food is an American invention and an enduring part of American culture. How enduring? Well, NPR's Allison Aubrey reports that consumption of fast food by U.S. children has remained stubbornly high. That's according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control, and it is despite efforts to get people to eat healthier meals.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: How many American kids are eating fast food every day? Here's the CDC's Cheryl Fryar.

CHERYL FRYAR: About 34 percent of all children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 consumed fast food on a given day.

AUBREY: In other words, every day, about 1 in 3 kids is chowing down on fries, burgers or pizza. And here's the thing. This is the same as it's been for over a decade. And something else that hasn't changed...

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JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: (Singing) Bah-duh-bah-bah-bah. I'm lovin' it.

AUBREY: Mcdonald's ads are everywhere. Same with Taco Bell, Burger King and KFC. They're masters of marketing, especially to children.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Now that there's a 3-D action cup from "The LEGO Movie," rated PG, in your McDonald's Happy Meal.

AUBREY: That gets the kids in the door. For parents, it's price. It's hard to eat out for less.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: A mouthwatering double cheeseburger and small fries for just two-fifty.

AUBREY: Pediatrician Stephen Pont says this food is also geared to our most basic desires.

STEPHEN PONT: We're programmed to see sweet and salty foods, and fast food knows exactly how to pander to those cravings.

AUBREY: Pont serves as chair of the section on obesity at the American Academy of Pediatrics, and he says when he talks to his own patients about the downside of eating too much fast food, it can be hard to get through.

PONT: A particular challenge with teenagers is that they all feel invincible, and they're not as sensitive to the long term impacts on their health.

AUBREY: This trifecta of marketing, affordability and flavor seems to have a hold on America's taste buds, and it's part of the reason why experts like Julia Wolfson of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health aren't surprised by the new CDC number.

JULIA WOLFSON: I think it speaks to how big a role fast food does play in the way we eat in America.

AUBREY: She says shifting people's eating preferences away from the salt, sugar and fat we desire is no small task, but she says there is some progress. Turns out, some of the major players in fast food are trying to make their menus healthier. McDonalds, for example, shrunk the portion sizes in Happy Meals, and there are other changes across the board.

WOLFSON: We have found in a couple of studies that fast food restaurants have been introducing new menu items that are, on average, about 60 calories lower than old menu items.

AUBREY: Wolfson says if this trend continues, it could make a difference, even if kids keep eating fast food.

WOLFSON: Kids, on average, are eating about 190 or so calories per day in fast food restaurants. And so if you think about that, 60 calories is a good chunk out of that total.

AUBREY: But even with healthier options on the menu, kids can still choose from plenty of sugary drinks and dollar desserts. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

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