With 1 in 3 children in the U.S. considered overweight or obese, it may seem obvious that reducing that number comes down to making healthier food choices. But what happens when the ability to make these choices, particularly for your child, is affected by limited options?

West Oakland is considered a “food desert,” meaning it has few large grocery stores with fresh produce. Residents find it easier to access fast food. In this environment, we followed second-grader Jahmere Evens, a student at Lafayette Elementary School, to see what he eats throughout the day.

According to a report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, most fast food and restaurant kids’ meals are too high in calories, fat and salt. Furthermore, 91 percent of restaurants surveyed do not meet guidelines developed by the National Restaurant Association – their own guidelines for healthy eating.

Here are some of the findings taken from the report:

  • Applebee’s Grilled Cheese on Sourdough with Fries and 2 Percent Chocolate Milk has 1,210 calories with 62 grams of total fat (46 percent of calories), 21 grams of saturated fat (16 percent), and 2,340 milligrams of sodium. That meal has nearly three times as many calories, and three times as much sodium, as CSPI’s criteria for four-to eight-year-olds allow.
  • Chili’s Pepperoni Pizza with Homestyle Fries and Soda has 1,010 calories, 45 grams of total fat (40 percent of calories), 18 grams of saturated fat (16 percent of calories, and about as much saturated fat as an adult should consume in an entire day), and 2,020 milligrams of sodium.
  • Denny’s Jr. Cheeseburger and French Fries has 980 calories, 55 grams of total fat (50 percent of calories), 20 grams of saturated fat (18 percent) and 1,110 mg of sodium. Denny’s does not include beverages with kids’ meals.
  • Ruby Tuesday’s Mac ‘n Cheese, White Cheddar Mashed Potatoes, and Fruit Punch has 860 calories, 46 grams of total fat (48 percent of calories) and 1,730 mg of sodium. Ruby Tuesday’s does not disclose saturated or trans fat content on its menus or website.
  • Dairy Queen’s Chicken Strips, Kids’ Fries, Sauce, Arctic Rush (a Slushee-type frozen drink) and Dilly Bar has 1,030 calories, 45 grams of total fat (39 percent of calories), 15 grams of saturated fat (13 percent of calories), and 1,730 mg of sodium.

Jahmere’s mother, Janea, knows all too well how easy it is to get trapped in a pattern of unhealthy eating. Janea weighed 400 pounds when she was pregnant with Jahmere, her second child. Since then, she’s dramatically changed her eating habits, even if dinner means pork chops for the kids and Brussels sprouts for herself.

Watch what Jahmere eats as he goes from home to day care to school (including an afternoon snack from Oakland Based Urban Gardens, or OBUGS) and back home.

YouTube video

The video’s producer, Jan Sturmann, notes, “Controlling what a child eats when he or she leaves the house is one of the hottest topics in public policy this year.” And the demand for tougher standards for school lunches is only intensifying.

In the coming months, CIR will be launching an ongoing reporting project focused on childhood nutrition. What are some of the biggest issues your community is facing when it comes to childhood nutrition? What policy implications should we consider? What guidelines should be in place? Do you have any solutions or ideas for raising a healthier generation? Let us know in the comments below.

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Kelly Chen is a news engagement specialist at The Center for Investigative Reporting. She manages the day-to-day social media strategies and online engagement for CIR. In addition, she works to break down complex issues and ideas and create content for CIR's online communities. Kelly also works to increase engagement on cironline.org and on other online platforms. Previously, she produced discussion segments for PBS NewsHour and oversaw social media and engagement efforts for the American Graduate project, a public media initiative on the high school dropout crisis. She's also worked at Southern California Public Radio and National Geographic TV. A native of Los Angeles, she studied international relations and English at UC Davis.