It may seem obvious that fast food and obesity are linked, given the relatively huge portion sizes of high-calorie foods doled out by fast food restaurants. But what does the research indicate?
Fast food and obesity facts for adults
For adults, the research is undeniably clear in terms of the link between fast food consumption and weight gain.[1-4] Research shows that the more frequently you eat fast food:
- the more you tend to weigh
- the higher your BMI (body mass index)
- the more likely you are to be overweight or obese
- the more likely you are to develop insulin resistance (which makes you gain even more weight)
- the more calories you tend to consume overall
- the more your diet tends to be full of foods that are calorie-dense (higher average calories per weight of food)
- the more total fat and saturated fat you tend you consume
- the more total carbohydrates, sugar, and sugar-sweetened beverages you tend to consume
- the more sodium you tend to consume
- the lower your diet tends to be in vitamins and minerals
- the lower your diet tends to be in fruits and vegetables
- the less fiber you tend to consume
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Fast food and obesity in children
While the evidence linking fast food to obesity in adults is clear, the evidence linking fast food and obesity among childrenis less so. A study that was just published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition did not find that fast food consumption in children was independently associated with being overweight or obese.
What the researchers from the University of North Carolina did find, however, was that the 50% of US children who consume fast food are more likely to eat a poor diet (standard American/Western diet) outside of their fast food consumption, including at home, compared to children who don’t eat fast food. That portion of the children’s diets was significantly associated with being overweight or obesity, whereas fast food consumption was not. In addition, the children who ate fast food followed a dietary pattern at home and school that generally included few fruits and vegetables but relied instead on high amounts of processed food and sugar-sweetened beverages compared to the children who did not eat fast food.
The results of this recent study in children imply that fast-food consumption may be more of a byproduct of a much bigger problem: poor all-day-long dietary habits that originate in children’s homes. “Outside the fast food restaurant, fast food consumers ate Western diets, which might have stronger associations with overweight/obesity and poor dietary outcomes than fast food consumption itself,” the study authors concluded.
How to get off the fast food wagon
Obviously, reducing fast-food intake is important for kids as well as adults, but this study is a good reminder that the rest of the diet should not be overlooked. For instance, the research is clear that reducing consumption of sugary drinks and eating more fresh vegetables and fruit are essential for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
How can you get the taste and convenience of fast food without the obesity risk that goes with it? If you want a short, simple, easy-to-read guide that shows you a healthy eating plan you can follow, check out our free report, Natural Health 101: Living a Healthy Lifestyle to help answer those very questions.