No matter how many times we get told that fast food is terrible for us, we never seem to pay any attention. Can you really blame us? Even if it is slowly killing men, women and children all over the world, the fact remains that introducing ingredients to a deep fryer, via an industrialised assembly line can produce some mighty tasty food. If only they could make lettuce as delicious, we might more readily get on board.
Partly because fast food has such a bad rep, it’s difficult to grasp exactly how much of it people eat. Thanks to our culture of foodie shaming, regular fast food eaters are often at pains to admit just how often they indulge their habit. People should feel able to eat whatever they like as long as it makes them happy, but there’s no denying that spending all your time in McDonald’s is unlikely to contribute towards a healthy lifestyle. This is what makes a new government study on our actual fast food intake all the more disturbing.
According to the new report, on any given day there are around 85 million Americans eating in a fast food restaurant. That’s around one in three adults eating fast food every single day. Even for the staunchest defenders of the industry, that’s a seriously large number. The first federal study of its kind, the research compiled data from over 10,000 adults over a four year period, providing the most comprehensive insight yet into our relationship with the fast food industry.
Speaking to CNN about the report’s focus on fast food, first author Cheryl Fryar said that, “We focused on fast food for this report because fast food has played an important role in the American diet in recent decades. Fast food has been associated with poor diet and increased risk of obesity."
Not only did the study show that fast food may be more prevalent than any of us realised, it also revealed that your relationship with it can vary massively, depending on your background. CNN reports that, “the data revealed that fast food consumption varied by age, income level, race and sex. For instance, 44.9% of adults ages 20 to 39 said that they consumed fast food on a given day, compared with 37.7% of adults 40 to 59, and 24.1% of adults 60 and older.”
There were similar discrepancies found when comparing income brackets, with the study showing that the regularity of fast food consumption increased according to wealth. According to the report, 31.7% of lower-income, 36.4% of middle-income and 42% of higher-income adults said they had eaten fast food on any given day, flying in the face of research that has previously suggested that poverty and fast food consumption are inextricably linked. For many in the scientific community, this was one of the most surprising aspects of the research.
It isn’t just adults who are under the influence of the fast food industry. The study also compared data from 2010 and 2013 to today around parental purchase of fast food for their children. It was discovered that, based on 871 responses to an online survey, around 91% of parents had bought fast food from either McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s or Subway in the previous week for their kids. That’s a rise of almost 15% in eight years.
Of course, there are limits to what the study can tell us. For instance, the data does not tell us anything about the global consumption of fast foods, nor how different the American market may be to elsewhere. Nonetheless, the sheer quantity of low nutrition, poor quality, potentially dangerous food currently being eaten should give all of us cause for concern.