The Link between Fast Food and Obesity
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The Link between Fast Food and Obesity

This will answer why fast food causes obesity and why obesity is rising at such a fast rate among adults and especially among children.

Does fast food cause obesity? In some ways yes; it adds to the obesity problem in America and the rest of the world. It depends on just how much fast food a person eats. And studies show that people are eating too much fast food. These foods have a great deal of calories, fat and sodium, and all of those add up to gaining weight and leading to obesity in both kids and adults. The obesity statistics are alarming.

The Studies and Statistics

In 1960, adult obesity in the US was at 13.6%. In 2006, the number of obese was at 34%. In May 2009, the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) reported that 32% of American children were defined as being overweight, 16% were obese and 11% were extremely obese. The average American consumed 500 more calories per day in 2000 than in 1970. A pound is 3,500 calories. This is an extra pound per week the average American is eating.

Another study conducted between 1994 and 1996 by the USDA Agriculture Research Service of 6,212 children, ages between 4 and 19, found what should be obvious answers. Their conclusion was, the kids who ate the most fast food, ate more calories, more total fat, more total bad carbohydrates, more added sugars, more soda pop, fewer fruits and vegetables and less fiber. The studies' finding was that consumption of fast food by children has an adverse effect on dietary quality in ways that could increase the risk for obesity [1].

A study by the University of California found that ninth graders are at least 5.2% more likely to be obese if a fast food restaurant is within one-tenth of a mile from their school [2]. A study of 6,200 children found that 30% of the children eat at a fast food restaurant on any given day. On the days they ate at a fast food restaurant, they consumed an additional 187 calories. This equates to 6 extra pounds per year [3].

From 1977 to 1996, the average American over the age of two, increased fast food consumption from 9.6% to 23.5%. People are now using fast food restaurants not only for dinner, but also breakfast, lunch and snacks. I remember when I was a kid in the early 1970s, eating at McDonalds was something of a treat, something not done even once a month let alone every day.

Gaining weight is taking in more calories than the amount of calories your body uses up. Over time this leads to gaining weight to the point of obesity as defined by your BMI (body mass index). Currently a BMI of 25 or greater defines being overweight. And a BMI of 30 or over defines obesity. Obesity doesn’t happen overnight, it adds up slowly. Losing weight cannot happen overnight either; it takes effort and time to lose weight.

Calories Add Up to Obesity

A common meal from McDonalds could be a quarter-pounder with cheese, large fries and a large coke. This meal would be 1320 calories and 450 calories from fat, 51 grams of fat, 15.5 grams of saturated fat and 1.5 grams of trans-fat. The cholesterol is 90 mg and 95 grams of sugar, mostly from the Coke. Some of these places have healthier choices, but I usually don’t see kids ordering a salad with a glass of orange juice.

Obesity and bad eating habits are starting at an early age, and these habits are continuing through adult life. And it isn’t only obesity that is on the rise. Clogged arteries and diabetes type II are now showing up in adolescents.

Fast Food and Bad Fats

The calories in these foods is bad enough when you consider that most people shouldn’t be eating more than 2,000 calories per day. The bad types of fat are saturated and trans fat, which are bad for your heart and health. Children eating this way are already on the road to heart disease at a very early age. It’s these bad types of fat that affect the cholesterol in your blood. Fructose corn syrup and palm oil are now thought to be a contributor to the obesity problem.

Soda Pop

Soft drinks might be even worse for obesity than the fast foods. A recent study showed that 16.1% of five-year-old girls who drank one serving (8 ounces) or less per day were overweight. At age nine, 24.2% were overweight. Of those who drank two or more servings per day at age five, 38.5% were overweight and 53.9% were overweight at age 11 [4]. For each serving of a soda pop consumed, the risk of obesity increased by 1.6 times.

Food Density

There is something called food density, nutrient and energy density. This is the amount of nutrients for a given food per calories. Energy is calories, and fast food is very energy dense. Meaning fast food has more calories for the volume or amount of food and less nutrients. A small amount of a fast food has a lot of calories for what you are really eating. Nutrient dense would be food with a lot of nutrients for the amount of calories, which would be fruits, vegetables and foods with a lot of fiber.


Fast food is but one contributor to the rising rate of obesity. But it still comes down to making healthy choices. Kids aren’t going to make the healthy choice usually, and the fast foods are all around them, including right in their own school.

A great book on the subject of how fast food became an American staple is called “Fat Land” by Greg Critser, ISBN 0-618-16472--3.

© Copyright October 2009 Sam Montana

Body Mass Index calculator

The Differences in Fats

[1] Pediatrics. 2004 Jan;113(1 Pt 1):112-8 Bowman SA, Gortmaker SL, Ebbeling CB, Pereira MA, Ludwig DS. US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville, Maryland, USA.


[3] Bowman SA, Gortmaker SL, Ebbeling CB, Pereira MA, Ludwig DS. Effects of fast-food consumption on energy intake and diet quality among children in a national household survey. Pediatrics.2003; 113 :112 –118

[4] Source: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Vol. 90, No. 4, 935-942, October 2009 “Beverage intake of girls at age 5 y predicts adiposity and weight status in childhood and adolescence” Authors: Laura M Fiorito, Michele Marini, Lori A Francis, Helen Smiciklas-Wright, and Leann L Birch.

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Comments (9)

it most certainly is. It is getting to crises levels

There is no doubt that fast food isn't great for you as far as constant consumption, however, there is something that is often missed when we rush to link obesity to the act of eating food --- and that is the individual's choices on how he or she decides what to eat. I find that the link to the obesity issue in general is another ploy for Big Brother to further entrench themselves in the ways we run our own lives, and what better way to squeeze more tax money than to look at all avenues that haven't been taxed yet! Obesity is an end result of a technological age where new improvements to the way we go about our business gets easier with less menial work involved --- thus the common act of exercise is reduced. What are you going to do in the end --- ban everything until we are eating grass and rabbit food?

obesity is does not result from the act of eating food, everyone eats food, it is in some cases eating the wrong foods, and in other cases a real medical condition

I understand that it is a medical condition in some cases, as it is eating the wrong foods... ....however no one is putting a gun to someone's head to eat at Micky D's for all 4 meals --- added on to the affects of lacking common sense. Hmmm... if I eat these chilli dogs 6x a week --- you know -- it just might make me a bit sluggish after a month...hmmm....

yes of course crises are many things, they are basically things that are are alarming or out of control, obesity is the fastest growing cause of disease and death in america according to the surgeon general, 2 out of three americans are obese or overweight it is a problem in canada and the uk as well nobody is going to convince if you don't believe it but that is the sad state of affairs, I am obese myself, and half the illnesses I have I wouldn't if I was normal weight.

Ranked #1 in Obesity

That is a very important point, there are medical reasons for obesity that have nothing to do with food. And you are right, no one is forcing people to eat fast food every day all day. The government wants to tax foods with a certain amount of fat and sugar in soda pop now. This government is just out of money; they are using these things as an excuse to tax them. Just like cigarettes. They recently raised the taxes on cigarettes dramatically just to pay for children’s health insurance. Once they are done taxing anything that makes people overweight, they will find something else to tax. Should the fact someone is obese be anyone else’s concern. Someone being obese doesn’t really affect me, but they say it raises the health care costs in the country. It is sad to see so many kids being completely overweight at age 10. Think back to old movies from the 1930s through the 1960s. Hardly anyone was overweight; in fact people 50 years ago were quite skinny.

Ranked #1 in Obesity

If you are interested in this subject, you should read the book I mentioned at the end of the article, Fat Land. It describes how the US government really could be the cause of the rise of obesity in this country. Starting in the 1970s, very interesting book.

Very important article. Thanks for sharing.

When obesity links with children, it raises various types of problems into their body. Child obesity is a kind of disorder that occurs due to junk food and of course, the fast food. Eating fast food daily adds extra pounds of weight that raises the risk of obesity.