Hey Americans, your kids eat too much fast food.

That may not sound like news, but this week, the national media were buzzing about a study in the journal Pediatrics that found that nearly one third of school-aged children eat fast food every day. Here's the bad part: Those kids consume more fat, more added sugars, and more total calories -- 187, to be exact. By my calculations, the French fry kids will need a heap of extra exercise, like a 22-minute jog, to burn off that additional energy.

Fast-food outfits like McDonalds (NYSE:MCD), Wendy's (NYSE:WEN), Yum Brands (NYSE:YUM), Sonic (NASDAQ:SONC), CKE Restaurants (NYSE:CKR), and privately held Burger King have been trying to combat this kind of bad press for years. So is there anything reason for the industry to pay special attention to this latest report?

I would say yes.

First off, a reality check. Contrary to many headlines, the study did not say that fast food makes kids fat. But the correlation between increased caloric intake and weight gain is tough to deny. All Americans are eating more and getting fatter. And overweight kids are 80% likely to stay heavy for the rest of their lives.

Does that mean fast food is bad? Of course not. But nothing is benign when you consume too much of it. Some in the industry keep trying to make that argument, but in the court of public opinion, that is a fight that cannot be won.

Here's some unsolicited advice for the fast-food crowd: Stay on the high road. Get off the defensive. Stop paying loud-mouthed industry shills, like the Center for Consumer Freedom, to bash nutrition studies through specious arguments (like the one that disingenuously equates 187 calories of fast food to a cup of lima beans). Nobody wants to buy a Happy Meal from a pack of bullies.

Instead, realize that this is an opportunity to change the terms of the discussion and to sell new, higher-margin products.

McDonalds seems to have figured this out well in advance of its competitors. Ronny McD was one of the first to prominently display nutrition information. McDonalds' salads have helped buoy sales for a year now. (Who wouldn't like selling $0.25 worth of raw veggies for four bucks?)

And take a look at McDonalds' website. You see only smiling, active people. No close-ups of dripping burgers. No one shoving fries in his face. No bragging about serving the biggest slab of meat in town. Now take a look at McDonalds' latest financials and tell me you don't like what you see.

When the marketplace changes, good companies change with it. If consumers are worried about their nutrition, there will be plenty of money available to the restaurateurs who accommodate, rather than criticize, those concerns.

Share your opinion on the whole burger 'n' salad thing on Fool discussion boards for McDonalds, Wendy's, Yum, Sonic, and CKE.

At 6'3" and 165 pounds, Seth Jayson is proof that burger-scarfing gluttons can stay trim. When he's not running, biking, or putting mayo on his fries, he can be reached at
FoolishSeth@sethj.com .