Americans cut back on fast food, but why?
American adults got 11 percent of their daily calories from fast food in 2010, down from about 13 percent four years earlier, a new study shows. Public education may have played a role, but so have pocketbook issues.
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Though it’s difficult to pin down exactly what is behind the trend in falling fast food consumption, nutrition professionals say a number of factors could be at play.Skip to next paragraph
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For starters, public health efforts – like Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign – may finally be sinking in.
“The take-home message is that public education messages to eat less [fast food] are working,” says Lisa Young, a professor of nutrition at New York University. “We are shifting toward healthier options.”
Of course, it’s also possible that Americans are still going to fast food restaurants, but simply choosing lower-calorie menu items, now more widely available.
“Fast food restaurants are beginning to provide a variety of healthier choices on their menus,” says Ms. Fryar of the CDC.
Perhaps the most surprising factor, however, is the economy.
This drop, Mr. Balzer told the newspaper, “is mostly due to money because we never let our overall food costs rise faster than our incomes, and our incomes have been under pressure so we ate more meals at home.”
Whatever the reasons behind the drop in fast food consumption, health and nutrition professionals are guardedly optimistic about the findings, but caution that Americans still have plenty of room to improve eating habits.
“We should still be eating a lot less, if any, fast food to reverse overweight and obesity trends in this country,” says Samantha Heller, a registered dietician at New York University’s Center for Musculoskeletal Care. She advises Americans to cut in half the number of times they eat fast food.
A closer look at the data, she says, reveals some concerning trends.
“When you look at the data and see how many overweight and obese 20- to 30-year-olds there are – and a higher percentage of them are eating fast food – the concern is they’re at risk" for a series of health problems that researchers link to diet.
The report also illustrates the progress yet to be made in food policy, says Dr. Nestle.
“Fast food is still heavily consumed by young men and heavily marketed to African-Americans in low-income communities,” she says, pointing to the high rates of fast food consumption among young, black men. “There’s a lot of targeted marketing going on to this population, and the results of the study show this marketing is effective.”
The data provide insight into the limited accessibility of fresh produce and unprocessed foods in many urban settings, the relative affordability of fast food, and the need for more effective food assistance programs, she adds.
“These are steps in the right direction,” says Nestle. “But we need to be asking more questions.”
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