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Abstract

Children are exposed to a great deal of food and beverage promotion. This is particularly concerning given that the prevalence of childhood obesity, a critical public health challenge, may be partially due to the increased consumption of fast food and sugar-sweetened beverages. However, there are lingering questions about the complex relationships between fast food and sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, physical activity levels, and childhood obesity. To address these complex relationships, this research examines the interaction of fast food and sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, along with the frequency of physical activity, in leading to the likelihood of a child being overweight or obese. A primary concern is the compensatory role of physical activity in offsetting the direct and indirect effects of fast food and sugar-sweetened beverage consumption on childhood obesity. For a sample of more than 4000 children between five and eleven years of age, results show that physical activity can partially counter the direct relationship between (1) fast food consumption and obesity and (2) sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and obesity. However, this intervening role of physical activity indicates that activity level is unable to compensate for the combined effect of high fast food and high sugar-sweetened drink consumption on obesity likelihood. Conclusions for the public health community and possible implications for policy makers interested in the combined roles of fast food and sugar-sweetened drink consumption on childhood health and obesity are offered.

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