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Fast Food For All

The science of junk

A nationwide study published online by the scientific journal Economics and Human Biology is set to shatter a rather widespread urban myth about fast food. As one of the authors puts it: "It’s not mostly poor people eating fast food in America." According to the research, middle-income Americans eat the most fast food — though beating the other economic groups by but a small margin. It appears that "bad" eating habits are not tied to or even favored by a particular economic segment. In America, everyone eats junk food at times.

In the context of the study, "fast-food" refers to food products available in restaurant chains such as McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, or Taco Bell. "Rich people may have more eating options, but that’s not stopping them from going to places like McDonald’s or KFC."

The study was conducted by Jay Zagorsky (Ohio Education Research Center) and Patricia Smith (University of Michigan-Dearborn).

Strangely enough, some study subjects eat all 100% of their meals at a fast-food restaurant.

Here are a few key findings from the fast food study:

  • On a weekly basis, 79% of respondents ate fast food at least once. 23% percent ate three or more fast-food meals.
  • People do not change their eating habits when their income or wealth changes.  This applies no matter how dramatically and regardless of the direction of the modification. "If you became richer or poorer, it didn’t change how much fast food you ate," Zagorsky said.
  • Fast-food consumers typically have less leisure time because they are likely working more hours than non-fast-food eaters.
  • Strangely enough, some subjects of the study eat all 100% of their meals at a fast-food restaurant. "I thought that was just a publicity stunt, but we found real people out there who seem to eat all their meals at fast-food restaurants."
  • The research included only people in their 40s or 50s; the authors suspect that consumption habits might differ for people of different ages.
  • "If the government wants to get involved in regulating nutrition and food choices, it should be based on facts. This study helps reject the myth that poor people eat more fast food than others and may need special protection," concludes Zagorsky
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