How Fast Food Contributes to Obesity

John V. deGuzman, MD

We can all agree that fast food is:

  • High in calories
  • High in fat (especially saturated and trans fats)
  • High in sugar and simple carbohydrates
  • High in salt
  • Served in large portions (would you like to supersize that?)
  • Low in cost
  • Convenient

Given these observations, we could also agree that fast food contributes to obesity. But does the data support this? Let’s look at two studies:

Study #1: Fast Food Consumption in Children

Brazilian researchers studied obesity rates with the number of McDonald’s by region. They down a “very strong” relationship between obesity rates in children. But there was no significant relationship in teens 19 years and older. Childhood obesity rates in Brazil have increased 600% over the past forty years. Studies show that more than 30% of the nation’s children are overweight or obese. So what about the United States?

obesity rates and number of McDonalds in the region

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that obesity affects 18.4% of U.S. children ages 6 to 11, and 20.9% of adolescents ages 12 to 19. The report also shows that young people received 13.8% of their calories from fast food between 2015 and 2018, up from 12.4% from 2011 to 2012. The report only contained data up to 2018 and there is great concern that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased reliance on fast food.

Does this mean if you’re over 19 years-old you can eat fast food and not develop obesity?

The answer is a resounding no.

Study #2: Fast Food Consumption in Adults

A Michigan study compared fast-food consumption to the amount of obesity among adults. The study showed that 80% of adults ate fast food at least once a month and 28% went often (2 or more times a week). The number of people with obesity increased with the frequency of eating fast food. 24% of people going less than once a week increased to 33% going three or more times a week.

To Lose Weight, Stop Eating Fast Food

Avoiding the intake of fast food seems to be an excellent way to avoid overweight and obesity at any age. Keep it to a minimum, not a ritual.

Resources:

Reuter P-G, Alfonso Barbosa Saraiva L, Weisslinger L, De Stefano C, Adnet F, Lapostoole F (2019) Young children are the main victims of fast food-induced obesity in Brazil. PLoS ONE 14(10): e0224114.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) NCHS Data Brief No.375, August 2020.

Anderson B, Rafferty AP, Lyon-Callo S, Fussman C, Imes G. Fast-food consumption and obesity among Michigan adults. Prev Chronic Dis 2011;8(4):A71. http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2011/jul/10_0186.htm.

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