Pizza All'Inferi

Does Pizza Fuel Childhood Obesity?

A study of how pizza fits into the dietary habits of children and adolescents is front page news this week — with plenty of confusion swirling. Lisa Powell and colleagues found that kids who eat more pizza also consume more calories, saturated fat, and sodium in their overall diets. Snacking on pizza and eating fast food pizza had the strongest association with these dietary patterns. Based on these findings, they conclude “its consumption should be curbed and its nutrient content improved.

Health reporters went further, with headlines ranging from “Too Much Is Bad for Kids” to “Pizza Becomes Public Enemy Number 1.”

No doubt about it, pizza packs a lot of calories, fat, and sodium. One slice has between 300 and 400 calories, so if you don’t stop with just one slice, the calories really add up. Thinking of pizza as an occasional treat makes a lot of sense.

But it’s also worth noting that none of this data supports some of the hyperbolic claims that pizza is “the biggest cause of childhood obesity.” There’s not one bit of causality in this study. And if you think about the fact that the data on what kids eat is entirely self-reported, such conclusions start feeling even shakier.

It makes total sense for families that want to improve their diets to keep pizza in that occasional treat category. It makes sense to cut back on pizza in school lunches. But if you think that a national pizza policy will put an end to childhood obesity, you better collect some data.

Single-food strategies for addressing obesity have limits. It’s the whole of our diet that counts.

Click here to read more from Bloomberg BusinessWeek and here to read the study. For rebuttal to the “pizza is public enemy #1” crowd, click here.

Pizza All’Inferi, photograph © Alessandro Fiorotto / flickr

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