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LOS ANGELES – Imagine for a moment that all of the nation’s fast-food establishments – all the striped awnings and golden arches, the drive-thru windows, the beckoning dollar deals and wafting odor of French fries – were to vanish overnight. Would the number of our kids who carry an unhealthful amount of extra weight plummet?

The answer is very likely no, says a study published this week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Because if you shut off the supply of 24-ounce fountain drinks, bacon cheeseburgers, fried chicken and stuffed tacos, the children who frequently eat at fast-food restaurants will go home and do what they generally do when not eating at a fast-food restaurant: They’ll snarf cookies and chips, chug sugar-sweetened soda from a bottle, and heat up frozen pizzas.

In a new study, researchers from the University of North Carolina led by nutrition professor Barry Popkin have found that even when they are not eating at fast-food restaurants, children who frequent them tend to eat food that would probably make many of them overweight or obese anyway. The authors of the latest research combed through a national database of Americans’ health and nutrition behaviors and grouped 4,466 American kids – from ages 2 to 18 – according to what they ate when they were not eating food purchased at a fast-food restaurant.

“Our findings suggest that the location where foods are obtained may not be as important as the nutritional quality of the foods consumed,” the authors wrote in Thursday’s study. They also suggest that “the effect of public health efforts targeted at fast-food restaurants may also be overestimated, such that these efforts may be necessary but not sufficient to reduce child obesity if the remainder of the diet is not addressed.”

The study was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.