For years, we’ve all heard certain myths regarding fast food consumption. Among those myths are that low-income families are consuming more fast food than those with higher incomes. We’ve also been told that those who are overweight and obese are eating more fast food than those who maintain a healthy weight. We’ve also come to believe that folks who live in a “food desert,” or an area where there is limited access to fresh foods are consuming more fast food. These ideas have always made sense to us, but perhaps they shouldn’t have.
We may make fast food out to be worse than it is, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Consumption of fast food has been linked to weight gain in adults, as well as associated with higher caloric intake and poorer diet quality among children and adolescents, said researchers from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHNES). These effects have seemed more prominent among low-income families, as well as individuals who are overweight and obese, where there’s less access to fresh food, also known as a food desert. And yet, the CDC doesn’t find this to be the case.
Analyzing the data collected from the NHNES in 2011-2012 — a cross-sectional survey designed to monitor the heath and nutritional status of the U.S. population — the CDC reported “no significant difference was seen by poverty status in the average daily percentage of calories consumed from fast food among children and adolescents aged 2 to 19.” Similarly, “the average daily percentage of calories consumed from fast food did not vary significantly by weight status.” As The Atlantic first put it, the level of fast food consumption based on poverty and weight status was “pretty even.”
There were, however, some trends among age and race groups. Adolescents aged 12 to 19 consumed twice the average daily percentage of calories from fast food than did younger children, and overall, non-Hispanic Asian children and adolescents consumed fewer calories from fast food compared to non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic Black, and Hispanic children and adolescents. The CDC noted that previous studies have shown that acculturation to the U.S. lifestyle plays an important role in the adoption of unhealthy behaviors, including but not limited to fast food consumption.
The Atlantic added these findings may dispel the idea that fast food is a primary cause of obesity in the U.S. The magazine cited a fast food ban passed in South Los Angeles, where the obesity rate was higher, failed to slow the epidemic. In fact, it seemed to speed up obesity levels.
That’s not to say the CDC is giving everyone a pass to load up on fast food; studies do show fast food items are spiked with potentially harmful antibiotics, fat, sodium, and sugar. But what they are finding is that everyone eats fast food, so the obesity rate among low-income families could very well be fueled by another type of food. The Atlantic pointed a finger at the general cheap access Americans have to sugar foods. As Medical Daily previously reported, sugary drinks in particular have been shown to weave “a complicated web of disease and increased risk of death” not just in the U.S., but around the world.
While the findings may dispel the belief that fast food is a key culprit in the obesity crisis in America, they also point to the idea that too many of us are eating it, no matter where we live, no matter our socioeconomic status, no matter our weight. FoodFacts.com wants us to all get on the bandwagon and stay away from fast food!