I live nearby a couple of big high schools in Chicago. Both are within spitting distance of several fast food restaurants. Off the top of my head, either have a Popeyes Chicken, Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's and/or several small places students can stop in for a quick burrito.

What I'm about to say makes me sound like a relic, but when I was in high school, we weren't allowed to leave campus to get something to eat. I'm pretty sure kids from other high schools could, so it wasn't a Wisconsin state law, but all of us at Hartford Union High School were confined to the school or school grounds. We had two cafeterias, one that served hot lunch, and one that was more for the kids who brought a brown bag lunch. I would usually buy a lunch, and it wasn't particularly healthy. Most days I would get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and probably a bag of sour cream and onion chips. Occasionally I would buy a salad that consisted of nothing more than chopped up iceberg lettuce slathered in French dressing...or maybe it was Western? I've never claimed to be a healthy eater when I was younger, but all in all, my lunches probably amounted to no more than (an incredibly nutrient void) 500 calories (give or take).

Today, however, a lot of high schoolers look forward to their 45 minutes or hour of freedom, and leave school grounds for lunch. Kids living in bigger cities have access endless fast food restaurants. Even small town kids have access to the local pizza place, or Subway. Fast food is everywhere. The serving sizes are getting bigger and the meal deals keep getting better.

A recent study published in the Journal of Public Policy reported that high schoolers who live within close proximity to fast food restaurants are more obese. This is kind of a no brainer, but confirmation is validating. Students with easy access to fast food eat much, much more than students who eat lunch within the school. In fact, according to research reported on RedOrbit.com there wasn't even that big of a caloric difference between the amount students ate at McDonald's vs Subway  - with consumers chowing down on more than 850 calories at either chain! Both offer cheap, refined food. Sure, Subway isn't fried, but it's really not that great for you (or consumers) either. After all, it's mostly dead food.

If a 15 or 16 year old student starts gaining a few extra pounds a year, every year, until he or she is well into adulthood - you can bet that unless something is seriously corrected in their diet - that student will be overweight, then obese. Those 850 calories might only be 300 (or so) calories more than what the students should be consuming in one sitting, but they add up fast.

If a student (or you) eat an extra 300 calories a day, he/she will gain:

  • 15.5 pounds in 6 months or
  • 31 pounds in one year

Kids get off track with their diet much in the same way we as adults get off track with our diet. We have access to a lot of cheap and easy food that contains little or no nutrient value. What we have to our advantage is a little bit more maturity and hopefully some understanding that we feel a lot better when we eat healthier.

Food additives, like sugar, salt and other ingredients are addictive. They're made to be addictive. In fact, the food industry spends millions and millions of dollars perfecting man made flavors that keep us coming back for more. It's fairy easy to discern the good from the bad: most food that comes without a package is good, and most food that can sit on shelf in a package for long periods of time is bad. We need to start eating a lot more of the good and a lot less of the bad.

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Traci is a nationally recognized health and fitness expert who has been featured on The TODAY Show and Dr. Oz. Traci is available for corporate speaking events and wellness coaching, as well as private training. Contact Traci here.