We all love pizza. No one likes to hear anything bad about pizza. But it might be wise to keep an eye on your kids’ intake of this delicious circular meal if the results of a new study published in the journal Pediatrics are to be believed. The study shows that on the days that they eat pizza, children consume significantly more calories, fat and sodium than on pizza-free days.

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Pizza is the second highest source of energy in the diet of American youths.

If anyone needed proof of American youths’ love for pizza, the fact that pizza is the second highest source of energy in their diet might be it. The new study adds that about 20% of youths eat pizza on any given day in the US.

Given that this foodstuff is consumed so hungrily and frequently, close attention needs to be paid to its nutritional content.

The researchers behind the new study, from the Health Policy Center at the Institute of Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), examined dietary recall data from children and adolescents aged 2-19 who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2003 and 2010.

The data show that caloric intake from pizza among children between the ages of 2 and 11 dropped by 25% during the study period. Also, among adolescents, despite a slight increase in prevalence of pizza consumption in this age group, there was a fall in calorie intake from pizza.

However, during 2009-10, pizza made up 22% of the total calorie intake among children and 26% of adolescents’ calorie intake on the days when it was eaten.

Children took in an additional 84 calories, 3 g of saturated fat and 134 mg of sodium on days that they ate pizza, compared with pizza-free days. For adolescents, pizza days meant an extra 230 calories, 5 g of saturated fat and 484 mg of sodium – 24% and 21% of their recommended daily intake for fat and sodium, respectively.

The biggest impact pizza had on diet, the study found, was when it was eaten as a snack between meals. When eating pizza as a snack, children took in an additional 202 calories and adolescents an extra 365 calories.

“Children and adolescents do not adequately compensate by eating less of other foods on days when they eat pizza,” comments lead author Lisa Powell, who is professor of health policy and administration in the UIC School of Public Health.

Looking at children’s and adolescents’ pizza-eating behaviors in more detail, the study found that from 2003-10, calories from eating pizza at dinner fell, though there was no change in calorie intake from pizza consumption at lunch and from school cafeterias.

Also, calorie intake from school cafeterias was approximately the same on days in which pizza was and was not eaten. The researchers think this is because school cafeteria food that is not pizza is similarly high in calories.

African American children were found to have significantly higher calorie intake from pizza compared with Hispanic children, but otherwise excess calories from pizza was consistent across race, gender and income.

Because of its huge influence on the diet of American youths, the authors suggest that pizza should be specifically addressed as part of nutritional counseling.

Prof. Powell says:

Curbing pizza consumption alone isn’t enough to significantly reduce the adverse dietary effects of pizza. It’s a very common and convenient food, so improving the nutritional content of pizza, in addition to reducing the amount of pizza eaten, could help lessen its negative nutritional impact.”