Fast food is pretty much a staple in the average American's diet. It's no secret that people in the US have a tendency to indulge in burgers, fries and, well, pretty much anything that incorporates a deep fat fryer into the cooking process. And as we all know, fast food is high in salt, fat, and calories, and thus when consumed to an excessive degree, it can go on to cause various health complications.
Excessive consumption of fast food is linked to high blood pressure, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, to name just a few of the health risks. And unfortunately, fast food is lower in a number of key nutrients that children need for healthy growth and adults need to maintain their strength and fight against potential diseases.
While none of this will be news to you, what you perhaps weren't aware of was how many people in the US actually eat fast food, which ethnic groups tend to rely on it the most, and how other factors such as gender and income level come into play.
Well, a recent report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revealed just that and more. The stats were laid out in a very eye-opening data brief, published Wednesday by the National Center for Health Statistics.
Based on the finding of the report, between 2013 and 2016, about 37% of American adults ate fast food on a regular basis: "On any given day in the United States, an estimated 36.6% or approximately 84.8 million adults consume fast food," said Cheryl Fryar, first author of the report and a health statistician at the CDC.
Take a look at the 10 deadliest fast foods that are eaten by millions of US citizens every single day:
"We focused on fast food for this report because fast food has played an important role in the American diet in recent decades," she said. "Fast food has been associated with poor diet and increased risk of obesity."
According to a National Center for Health Statistics data brief published in 2013, the average American consumed about 11.3% of their total daily calories from fast food between 2007 and 2010. The 2018 report includes data on about 10,000 people aged 20 and over from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2013-2016.
The outcome of the report has confirmed what many experts already suspected, that the consumption of fast food varies by ethnicity, gender, age, and income. For instance, 44.9% of Americans aged 20-39 admitted to eating fast food on a given day, while 37.7% of adults aged 40 to 59 and 24.1% of adults aged 60 and over said they did the same.
Interestingly, the percentage of American adults who said they ate fast food increased with the family income level, according to the findings. It was revealed that 31.7% of lower-income families, 36.4% of middle-income families, and 42% of higher-income adults had said that they eat fast food.
"What surprised me was the finding that income was positively associated with more fast food," said Dr. Lawrence Cheskin, an associate professor and director of clinical research at the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who had no involvement in the new report.
"That connection or correlation is opposite of what I perhaps would have expected," he added. "But we need these kinds of studies and these kinds of facts and statistics to get a better understanding of what drives the use of foods that, as a nutrition expert I would say, are not your first choice for a variety of reasons."
Furthermore, it was revealed that a higher proportion of non-Hispanic black adults (42.4%), ate fast food than non-Hispanic white adults (37.6%). About 30.6% of non-Hispanic Asian adults and 35.5% of Hispanic adults also admitted to eating fast food.
Also uncovered by the report's findings was that 43.7% of adults ate fast food for lunch, 42% for dinner, 22.7% ate it for breakfast and 22.6% as a snack. In addition, there were slightly more men (37.9%) than women (35.4%) who said they ate fast food on a given day.
"We do know that fast food advertising has gone up during that time by pretty large amounts. We do know that parents take their children, they say, because it's convenient, it's a good value, and their kids like the food. So all of those are driving purchases of fast food," said Jennifer Harris, an associate professor in allied health sciences at the University of Connecticut and director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, who had no involvement in the new CDC report.
"We know for children, on days that they consume fast food, they eat about 120 more calories that day. They also consume more sugar and sodium and fat on the days they eat fast food," she added.
"It is funny when we see news clips of a shark swimming near a beach, it scares us into not going near that beach. However, what we should be scared of is double cheeseburgers, French fries, and large amounts of sugary beverages," said Liz Weinandy, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, who was also not involved in the new report.
It should be noted that the report did have certain limitations from the outset, namely the fact that the information about the participants' dietary lifestyle was received through in-person interviews where they recalled what they had eaten in the last 24 hours. Research methods such as these tend to lead to underreporting amongst other issues.
But the facts remain that foods high in fat and sugar can increase your risk of developing several chronic health problems. You have the lowest overall risk when you eat fruit, vegetables and whole grains instead of fast food.