Children who regularly eat takeaway meals may be increasing their risk of developing heart disease later in life, a new study has found.
These children are also more likely to be consuming too many calories and fewer vitamins and minerals than children who consume food that is cooked in the home.
Previous research has found a link between takeaway meals and a higher risk of weight problems, type 2 diabetes and heart disease in adults. Researchers in the UK set out to see if children who consume these meals face the same problems.
They looked at almost 2,000 ethnically diverse nine and 10-year-olds from 85 primary schools, to see what kind of foods they were consuming. The children's health was also assessed, including their weight, body fat composition and blood pressure. Blood samples were taken to check their cholesterol levels.
The study found that 28% of the children consumed takeaway meals at least once a week, while 46% said they ate them less than once a week. The remainder - 26% - said they never ate them.
Boys tended to eat takeaways meals more than girls, as did children from poorer areas.
The researchers found no difference in blood pressure or insulin resistance between those who regularly ate takeaways and those who did not.
However, those who regularly ate these meals all tended to have higher skinfold thickness, body fat composition and blood fats (cholesterol).
Regular consumers also tended to eat less protein and had poorer intakes of iron, vitamin C, calcium and folate.
The researchers insisted that if children were to continue eating in this way, they could be storing up health problems for later in life.
They noted that the higher cholesterol levels found in children who regularly eat takeaways, ‘if sustained, are sufficiently large to increase long-term coronary heart disease risk by 10%'.
"More frequent takeaway meal consumption in children was associated with unhealthy dietary nutrient intake patterns and potentially with adverse longer term consequences for obesity and coronary heart disease risk.
"These results suggest that further increases in takeaway meal consumption (and marketing directed at encouraging such increases) are likely to have adverse public health consequences and should be actively discouraged," the team from St George's University of London said.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, Archives of Disease in Childhood.