Skip to main content

Associated Health Risks of Eating Fast Foods

  • Synopsis: Published: 2013-06-17 (Revised/Updated 2016-03-31) - Eating fast food more than twice a week is associated with weight gain and insulin resistance in young adults who are otherwise healthy. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Thomas C Weiss at Disabled World.
Fast Food

Term given to food that can be prepared and served very quickly. While any meal with low preparation time can be considered to be fast food, typically the term refers to food sold in a restaurant or store with preheated or precooked ingredients, and served to the customer in a packaged form for take-out/take-away. The term "fast food" was recognized in a dictionary by Merriam-Webster in 1951.

Main Document

Quote: "It is important to watch carefully what you eat, especially at a fast-food restaurant. Knowing the nutritional content is important."

Young adults who eat frequently at fast food restaurants gain more weight and experience greater insulin resistance as they reach middle age according to a large multi-center study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

After a period of fifteen years, people who ate at fast food restaurants more than twice a week compared to less than once a week had gained an extra ten pounds and experienced a two-fold increase in insulin resistance, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes which is a major risk factor for heart disease.

The numbers of people who are eating fast foods has increased in America over the past thirty years. Mark Pereira, Ph.D. stated, "It's extremely difficult to eat in a healthy way at a fast-food restaurant. Despite some of their recent healthful offerings, the menus still tend to include foods high in fat, sugar and calories and low in fiber and nutrients." Mr. Pereira is the Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Minnesota. He said that people need to stop and evaluate how many times they actually eat meals at fast food restaurants and consider cutting back. One of the reasons people gain weight might be that a single meal from a fast food restaurant many times contains enough calories to fulfill a person's caloric requirements for the entire day.

People who participated in the study were asked during physical exams given as a portion of the study how often they ate meals at fast food restaurants. Researchers discovered that the negative impact on people's weight and insulin resistance was not related to race, despite other lifestyle habits. The participants included 3,031 adults who were between the ages of 18 and 30 years of age. They were part of the, 'Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA),' study and received dietary assessments over a period of fifteen years.

Gina Wei, M.D. Of the NHLBI stated, "It is important to watch carefully what you eat, especially at a fast-food restaurant. Knowing the nutritional content is important. Consumers may want to ask for this information." Ms. Wei went on to say that salads and grilled foods tend to be lower in fat than foods that are fried. She suggested that people keep their food portion sizes small and ask that high-fat condiments and sauces such as mayonnaise and salad dressings be placed, 'on the side,' and that people use them sparingly.

Fast Food and Nutritional Content

2 cheeseburgers
About This Image: 2 cheeseburgers
A lot of people underestimate just how bad a fast food meal can be for their health. There are many components of common fast foods that are greasy or fried and it does not take long for calories and fat to add up. The majority of fast food items are extremely high in cholesterol and sodium. In addition, fast food meals offer very little in the way of vitamins, fiber, or other nutrients a person's body needs to properly function.

For example; one major fast food hamburger with cheese contains 1,020 calories and 65 grams of fat. The amounts of fat and calories are more than fifty-percent of the recommended caloric intake for one entire day and one-hundred percent of a person's fat intake. Meals such as this may be extremely detrimental to a person's health, especially if a person eats them on a consistent basis.

Making matters worse is the fact that not all nutrition-related information is readily available to people at fast food restaurants. Some of these restaurants offer nutrition-related information through their websites, yet few actually present nutrition-related information at their restaurants or on their menus. Because of this, people need to be very aware of the health hazards associated with eating fast foods.

Fast Food and the Risk of Illness and Disease

Eating fast foods has been linked to a number of different health conditions. Some of these conditions may lead to permanent disability or even death. It is important for people to be aware of the risks of illness and disease related to the consistent consumption of fast foods. The health conditions linked to fast food consumption include the following:

  • Stroke: A diet of fast foods many times leads to high blood pressure which, in turn, is a leading risk factor for stroke.
  • Obesity: The NIH also states that consuming fast food can lead to obesity. One study discovered that a person who eats fast food at least twice a week will gain at least ten extra pounds.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that fast food consumption is strongly associated with insulin resistance, something that greatly increases a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Cardiovascular Disease: Eating an unhealthy diet filled with fast foods is a leading contributor to cardiovascular disease. The condition is caused by the buildup of plaque in a person's arteries and might lead to heart failure.
  • Cancer: According to Corporate Accountability International, one-third of cancers are related to poor diet, such as the kind of diet to be found through consuming fast foods. This is many times paired with the fact that obesity is closely linked with cancers of the kidney, colon, as well as esophagus.

Health risks related to the consumption of fast foods do not affect only adults. Children who regularly eat fast foods often suffer even more than adults do because their conditions worsen as they grow older. Like adults, children experience an increased risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes associated with the consumption of fast foods according to the NIH. Some studies have revealed that children who eat fast foods on a regular basis also experience an increased risk for developing hypertension, asthma, and high cholesterol.

The factors mentioned, in combination with a lack of complete nutrition in fast foods, may lead to improper growth and development in children and adolescents. Diet is one of the major factors that contribute to proper growth and development and is particularly important for toddlers and young children who are developing and growing at a fast rate. A lack of appropriate nutrition might stunt a child's physical growth, brain development, or motor skills development.

Avoiding the Health Hazards of Fast Foods

Eating fast food every now and then should not be too bad for your health as long as you do not make it a habit. You can restrict the health risks associated with eating fast foods by making smarter choices when you do at these places. What follows are some ways to cut down on the calories, salt and fat in fast foods.

Choose grilled chicken or crispy chicken. Skip the mayonnaise, and choose apple slices instead of fries. You might choose a wrap instead of a sandwich. Smart choices can add up.

Take the time to look up a fast food restaurant's nutrition-related information on their website before you go to their restaurant. Just seeing that a large order of french fries has three times the calories of a small order might encourage you to order differently. You might even decide to eat at home instead. (What's in a Fast Food Kids Meal)

Avoid increasing the size of your portion. Many fast food restaurants offer larger portions at a somewhat higher price to encourage people to buy more. Usually, even the smallest size available to you is more than enough on its own. One example is soda pop - even at 16-20 ounces for a small size, it is already enough for two servings.

Do not be fooled by salads that appear to be harmless on fast food menus, they can also be health hazards. In a number of instances, salads are nearly as bad for you as fries, burgers, or other clearly unhealthy options due to the inclusion of fatty ingredients and dressings such as fried chicken or bacon. If you do choose a salad, get on without any fried ingredients and choose a light dressing.

Remember - fast foods are loaded with calories from fats and refined sugars, especially the artery-clogging saturated and hydrogenated fats that are repeatedly reheated to high temperatures for frying. Fast foods are extremely high in sodium. Fast foods are deficient in dietary fiber and essential micro-nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. The results of these are the piling up of unused empty calories in a person's body which are then stored as fat. Recent scientific studies have demonstrated that high-calorie foods that are rich in refined sugar, salt, and fats may reconfigure a person's hormones in a way that makes them crave these kinds of foods and leave them wanting more.

Resources and Citations:

Fast Food Health Risk Facts

Fast Food Effects on Health

Fast Food is a Major Public Health Hazard

Related Information:

  1. Weight Loss Planning Calculator for Women and Men - Our Weight Loss Planning Calculator helps you to establish realistic time-lines for your weight loss goals - (Published 2010-12-26).
  2. Body Fat Percentage Calculator for Men and Women - Information regarding calculating body fat for males and females includes body fat calculator and formula - (Published 2009-07-28).
  3. Fast Food Customers Cut Calories After Food Labeling System Introduction - 1 in 6 fast-food customers cut calories after US food labeling system introduction - (Published 2011-07-30).

Information from our Fitness & Nutrition: Information for Disability & Health Conditions section - (Full List).

     What will I receive?

Loan Information for low income singles, families, seniors and disabled. Includes home, vehicle and personal loans.

Famous People with Disabilities - Well known people with disabilities and conditions who contributed to society.

List of awareness ribbon colors and their meaning. Also see our calendar of awareness dates.

Blood Pressure Chart - What should your blood pressure be. Also see information on blood group types and compatibility.

  1. New Approach to Studying Chromosomes' Centers May Reveal Link to Down Syndrome and More
  2. Social Mobile Gaming Boosts Rehabilitation for Patients with Physical Disabilities
  3. Rebuilding Spinal Cords with Energetic Polymer Scaffold
  4. Nonprofit Disability Solutions Connects Jobseekers with Top Companies