Fast food, or food that is prepared and served quickly, is a relatively new addition to the restaurant world. Until the middle of the 20th century, there were few fast food restaurants. It was around that time that McDonald’s appeared on roadsides in the United States. The food, which was made according to a set formula created by the corporate offices, was widely available and inexpensive. People flocked to these establishments and more appeared on the scene. Soon, additional fast food chains emerged. Burger King, Wendy’s, and Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants were built in cities and towns throughout the country. It did not take long for the restaurants to add drive-up windows, which made it possible to purchase a meal without leaving the car. Instead of eating at a dining table, eating on the go became fairly common. Entire families were able to eat their fast food meals while driving in cars. Without question, fast food became an integral part of the contemporary diet.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, from 2007 to 2010, on average, 11.3 percent of an individual’s total daily calories were obtained from fast food. While the percentage did not differ significantly between men and women, older people ate less fast food, only 6 percent. Younger non-Hispanic black adults obtained one-fifth of their calories from fast food. Among adults, researchers observed that the more people weighed, the higher the consumption of fast food. The heaviest people consumed the highest percentage of calories from fast food. 1
In a study published in 2012 in Obesity Surgery, researchers from San Antonio, Texas, wanted to learn more about behavioral factors associated with severe obesity in patients scheduled to have bariatric surgery. (Bariatric surgery includes a variety of surgical procedures used to reduce the food intake of people who are obese.) The cohort consisted of 270 people who were surveyed before undergoing surgery. The researchers divided the patients into three groups according to body mass index (BMI), a key measure of obesity: obese (BMI 30-39.99), morbidly obese (BMI 40.00-49.99), and super morbidly obese (BMI 50.00+). The obese category had 54 patients; the morbidly obese had 149 patients; and, the super morbidly obese had 76 patients. About 49 percent of the group was Hispanic. With an average age of 43.5 years, 23.7 percent of the patients were males. Almost half of the sample reported that they exercised at least once per week, and the average rate of fast food consumption was 2.68 times per week. The researchers learned that the consumption of fast food “emerged as a key determinant of higher levels of obesity.” They found a direct correlation between higher rates of fast food consumption and increases in the super morbidly obese category. The researchers discussed that this relationship may be explained by the types of food sold at fast food establishments, including “oversized portions, high energy density, high processed, high fat content, and large amounts of refined starch and added sugars.” The researchers underscored the extraordinary health care costs associated with extreme forms of obesity and stressed the need to find ways to break this eating pattern. 2
In a descriptive, cross-sectional study published in 2014 in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, researchers from India examined the association between body mass index and the consumption of fast food, soft drinks, and the level of physical activity in 147 first-year medical students. The data were collected using a questionnaire. The researchers found that more than 90 percent of the students ate fast food. Of these, 47 students (34.05 percent) were overweight or obese. Interestingly, despite their medical school status, “more than 60% of the students were unaware about the fact that fast food was unhealthy.” Over half the students drank soft drinks with their fast food, and this practice was more common with the obese and overweight students than the normal weight students. The researchers concluded that their findings found a “significant relationship” between fast food consumption and BMI. 3
In a study published in 2012 in Circulation, researchers from Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and Singapore examined the association between consumption of Western-style fast food and the incidence of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease mortality in China. The cohort consisted of men and women 45 to 74 years old who were enrolled in the Singapore Chinese Health Study between 1993 and 1998. The type 2 diabetes group originally included 43,176 participants. During follow-up interviews from 1999 to 2004, there were 2,252 cases of diabetes. The coronary heart disease group initially included 52,584 participants, By December 31, 2009, there were 1,397 deaths. The researchers found that Chinese Singaporeans who had a relatively frequent intake of Western fast food had a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and dying from heart disease than those who ate little or no Western fast food. And, they concluded that “Chinese Singaporeans with relatively frequent intake of Western-style fast food items have a modestly increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus and a strong and graded risk of dying as a result of CHD [coronary heart disease].” 5
In an article published in 2012 in BMJ, researchers from the United Kingdom proposed taxing “unhealthy foods and drinks.” According to these researchers, taxing fast foods and other similar products should increase their price and, subsequently, reduce their consumption. The researchers cited evidence from natural experiments, controlled trials of price change in closed environments, and modeling studies. Of course, the researchers also acknowledged that the taxes would have the greatest impact on the poorer members of society. On the other hand, when people with fewer economic resources eat less unhealthful food, their general health should improve. The researchers concluded that “health related food taxes could improve health.” Moreover, “existing evidence suggests that taxes are likely to shift consumption in the desired direction.” 6
It is generally agreed that people know that fast food is not a better option. But, it is inexpensive and convenient. So, abstaining is difficult.
Without a doubt, most people would agree that it is almost impossible to avoid fast food restaurants. And, generally, one does not need to travel very far to purchase fast food. In fact, in a cross-sectional study published in 2014 in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, researchers from Ontario, Canada, examined the fast food consumption of students who lived and attended school in a neighborhood with a moderate to high number of fast food restaurants. The cohort consisted of 6,099 Canadian students between the ages of 11 and 15 years from 255 school neighborhoods. The researchers found that the students from neighborhoods with higher numbers of fast food restaurants were more likely “to be excessive fast-food consumers” than students from neighborhoods with no fast food restaurants. The researchers concluded that “the fast-food retail environment within which youth live and go to school is an important contributor to their eating behaviours.” 7
In a qualitative study published in 2014 in BMC Public Health, researchers from Scotland conducted nine interviews with managers and one interview with a senior employee of fast food shops near secondary schools (students ages 12 to 17 years) in low-income areas in the Scottish cities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. They wanted to learn why the restaurants didn’t offer more healthful menu options. Since managers of chain restaurants have limited control over the food selection, chain restaurants were not included in the study. The researchers found that the respondents maintained that they prepared foods that the customers wanted to consume. They were only responding to customer demand, and they believed “that the customers in their area, especially school children, would not be persuaded to purchase healthier foods.” In addition, healthier options were considered unrealistic, “because vendors perceived that they wouldn’t be able to charge enough to make a profit.” They said that they were already struggling to make a profit. The researchers commented that “cost and profitability were major concerns among food vendors, especially in regards to introducing healthier options.” 8
1. National Center for Health Statistics, www.cdc.gov/nchs.
2. Ginny Garcia, Thankam S. Sunil, and Pedro Hinojosa, “The Fast Food and Obesity Link: Consumption Patterns and Severity of Obesity,” Obesity Surgery 22, no. 5 (2012): 810-18.
3. T. Shah, G. Purohit, S. P. Nair et al., “Assessment of Obesity, Overweight and Its Association with the Fast Food Consumption in Medical Students.” Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research 8, no. 5 (2014): CC05-CC07.
4. Z. Bahadoran, P. Mirmiran, F. Hosseini-Esfahani, and F. Azizi, “Fast Food Consumption and the Risk of Metabolic Syndrome After 3-Years of Follow-Up: Tehran Lipid and Glucose Study,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 67, no. 12 (2013): 1303-9.
5. Andrew O. Odegaard, Woon Puay Koh, Jian-Min Yuan et al., “Western-Style Fast Food Intake and Cardiometabolic Risk in an Eastern Country,” Circulation 126 (2012): 182-88.
6. Oliver Mytton T., Dushy Clarke, and Mike Rayner, “Taxing Unhealthy Food and Drinks to Improve Health,” BMJ 344 (2012): e2931.
7. Rachel E. Laxer and Ian Janssen, “The Proportion of Excessive Fast-Food Consumption Attributable to the Neighbourhood Food Environment Among Youth Living Within 1 km of Their School,” Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism 39, no. 4 (2014): 480-86.
8. Michelle Estrade, Smita Dick, Fiona Crawford et al., “A Qualitative Study of Independent Fast Food Vendors Near Secondary Schools in Disadvantaged Scottish Neighbourhoods,” BMC Public Health 14 (2014): 793+.
9. Andrea K. Garber and Robert H. Lustig, “Is Fast Food Addictive?” Current Drug Abuse Reviews 4, no. 3 (2011): 146-62.
Bahadoran, Z., P. Mirmiran, F. Hosseini-Esfahani, and F. Azizi. “Fast Food Consumption and the Risk of Metabolic Syndrome After 3-Years of Follow-Up: Tehran Lipid and Glucose Study.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 67, no. 12 (2013): 1303-9.
Estrade, Michelle, Smita Dick, Fiona Crawford et al. “A Qualitative Study of Independent Fast Food Vendors Near Secondary Schools in Disadvantaged Scottish Neighbourhoods.” BMC Public Health 14 (2014): 793+.
Garber, Andrea K., and Robert H. Lustig. “Is Fast Food Addictive?” Current Drug Abuse Reviews 4, no. 3 (2011): 146-62.
Garcia, Ginny, Thankam S. Sunil, and Pedro Hinojosa. “The Fast Food and Obesity Link: Consumptions Patterns and Severity of Obesity.” Obesity Surgery 22, no. 5 (2012): 810-18.
Hollands, Simon, M. Karen Campbell, Jason Gilliland, and Sisira Sarma. “Association Between Neighbourhood Fast-Food and Full-Service Restaurant Density and Body Mass Index: A Cross-Sectional Study of Canadian Adults.” Canadian Journal of Public Health 105, no. 3 (2014): e172-e178.
Laxer, Rachel E., and Ian Janssen. “The Proportion of Excessive Fast- Food Consumption Attributable to the Neighbourhood Food Environment Among Youth Living Within 1 km of Their School.” Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism 39, no. 4 (2014): 480-86.
Mytton, Oliver T., Dushy Clarke, and Mike Rayner. “Taxing Unhealthy Food and Drinks to Improve Health.” BMJ 344 (2012): e2931.
Odegaard, Andrew O., Woon Puay Koh, Jian-Min Yuan et al. “Western-Style Fast Food Intake and Cardiometabolic Risk in an Eastern Country.” Circulation 126 (2012): 182-88.
Shah, T., G. Purohit, S. P. Nair et al. “Assessment of Obesity, Overweight and Its Association with the Fast Food Consumption in Medical Students.” Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research 8, no. 5 (2014): CC05-CC07.
Tobin, K. J. “Fast-Food Consumption and Educational Test Scores.” Child: Care, Health and Development 39, no. 1 (2013): 118-24.
National Center for Health Statistics. www.cdc.gov/nchs .