Food News

Burger King's Free Ice Cream: Contributing to Child Obesity?

Miami-based fast-food giant Burger King has announced an ice-cream giveaway in celebration of its foray into a full line of frozen treats, just in time for after-school snacking.

From now through October 9, customers who order a value meal can also walk away with a free soft-serve cup or cone.

After the 9th, ice-cream cones, cups, and sundaes will be available for $1 or less, making them very attractive (and affordable) to kids and preteens on an allowance.

Let's cite some hard numbers in our rant. A Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich value meal (small size) sounds like a healthy choice. After all, it's a grilled chicken sandwich with only a small order of fries. According to Burger King's nutritional website, that value meal has 1,000 calories, 35 grams of fat, 85 milligrams of cholesterol, 58 grams of sugar, 135 grams of carbs, and 1,630 milligrams of sodium.

BK kiddie meals are no better. A Double Cheeseburger Kids Meal comes with a Simpsons toy, 450 calories, 26 grams of fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 95 milligrams of cholesterol, 29 grams of carbs, and 960 milligrams of sodium.

Add a yummy-, healthy-sounding peach and granola sundae from the company's new frozen menu and tack on an additional 280 calories, 5 grams fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 43 grams sugar, 54 grams carbs, and 170 milligrams sodium.

Under the Mayo Clinic's nutritional guidelines for children, a girl aged 9 to 13 should eat 1,400 to 2,000 calories, 1,500 milligrams sodium, and 39 to 54 grams of fat a day to maintain a healthy weight. That means one lunch at Burger King pretty much fills up an active child's daily intake of fat and sodium, leaving not much room for breakfast, dinner, and snacking. Now, factor in that children as young as preschool age are eating these meals and you've got a recipe for child obesity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years, with more than one-third of children classified as overweight or obese in 2008. Are fast-food outlets such as Burger King at least partly to blame?

Many professionals think so.

In a 2006 newsletter, Children's Hospital Boston stated that fast food, typically eaten maybe once a month in the '50s, could be contributing to childhood obesity. The article said:

"Most children in the United States have fast food at least once a week, and it's served in enormous portion sizes. Fast food has a tremendous number of calories per bite, and no fiber, so it can be chewed easily and consumed quickly before the body has time to register that the calories are coming in.

"By the time the body registers that it is full, too many calories have already been consumed.  Typical fast food meals are high in refined starch and added sugar. They also have a high glycemic index, which refers to the rise in blood glucose that occurs after a person eats foods containing carbohydrates. High glycemic diets have been associated with an increase in insulin levels and may contribute to excessive weight gain.

"Some studies have shown that high glycemic load meals increase hunger and make a person want to eat more throughout the day."

Back in the 70's, there was one McDonald's in our neighborhood, and Burger King was a car ride away. Burgers and fries were reserved only for birthday parties or little-league wins, and ice cream was reserved for weekend movie-and-ice-cream outings.

Now there are sometimes two or more fast-food restaurants per block, beckoning kids to enter and enjoy playgrounds, toys, and food.

Fast-food giants design ad campaigns and websites specifically to attract children. Burger King has Club BK; McDonald's has These websites offer games and cartoons with the intention of inviting kids to lunch or dinner.

Parents ultimately have veto power, but it seems like it's not enforced enough. Is it bad parenting or simply the result of parents too tired or worn out to say no to junk? 

Will one measly Burger King ice cream lead to childhood obesity? Of course not. But like the classic Monty Python skit... just one treat... one thin mint (or ice cream)... can cause an ugly chain reaction.

Here's the classic skit in which Mr. Creosote overeats. (Warning: High gross factor here. Don't watch while eating.):

Follow Short Order

on Facebook and Twitter @Short_Order.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss