Fast food and soft drinks may be fattening children but they are also making them merrier, a new study has found.
One way of tackling childhood obesity effectively is to reduce their consumption of unhealthy food and drink, and keeping them happy in other ways, according to Hung-Hao Chang from National Taiwan University and Rodolfo Nayga, University of Arkansas.
Childhood obesity is a public health issue worldwide, thanks to unhealthy eating patterns that pile fat upon fat. 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, 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 two 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 were overweight or obese. About 19 percent sometimes or often felt unhappy, sad or depressed. The 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, said an Arkansas release.
The authors conclude: "Our findings suggest that consumption of fast food and soft drinks can result in a trade-off between children's objective (obesity) and subjective (unhappiness) well-being."
"Policies and programmes 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."
These findings were published in Springer's Journal of Happiness Studies.