Fast food has taken over the country, providing cheap and quick meals for people on the move. It’s a simple way to grab nutrients for the day, and people love the ease. However, some risks come with tasty investments.
We’ve pulled together a few of the latest statistics about the fast food world, diving into the popularity of the meal and the health risks associated with it.
We wanted to understand: how many people eat fast food, how often they eat fast food, long-term and short-term risks, mental health risks, money spent on fast food, the worst fast food options, and finally, the solution to the risks.
Let’s check out the facts!
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Quick Fast Food Stats
- As many as 1 in 3 Americans eat fast food every day
- The most popular fast food chains include McDonalds, Starbucks, Chick-Fil-A, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s
- Men tend to eat at fast food locations more often than women
- The 48-64 age group eats out more than the others, with 38% eating out once a week or more
- Non-Hispanic black adults have the highest rate of fast food consumption at 42.4%, followed by non-Hispanic white adults at 37.6%
- Eating fast food is associated with long-term dangers like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular troubles
- Ingestion of fast food is associated with short-term issues like a spike in blood sugar, raised inflammation, and a lack of proper nutrient intake
- Fast food can have severe mental health impacts such as a higher risk for dementia, anxiety, sugar addiction, mood swings, and more
- The average American spends $1,200 on fast food every year
- The least healthy fast foods include pizza, burger and fries, cold cut combos, hot dogs, and fried chicken
How Many People Eat Fast Food?
In America, many people eat fast food. One survey showed that as many as 1 in 3 Americans eat fast food every single day. There are 330 million people in the United States, meaning more than 100 million people choose fast food as a meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner many days of the week!
Regular ingestion of fast foods means your body accumulated the fat, sugar, sodium, and additives packed inside each meal.
Typically, the cheapest options at fast food locations are the ones with the worst ingredients. Salads and other healthier choices cost more to add to your meal. A quick fast food bite typically isn’t good for you.
What Are The Most Popular Fast Food Chains?
Food chain location impacts what people are putting in their bodies. Combined, the top five chains made almost 100 billion dollars in 2022, each with a different product to offer those in their lines.
The most popular fast-food chains include:
- McDonald’s with $46 billion in systemwide sales
- Starbucks with $24.3 billion in systemwide sales
- Chick-Fil-A with $6.7 billion in systemwide sales
- Taco Bell with $12.6 billion in systemwide sales
- Wendy’s with $11.1 billion in systemwide sales
- Dunkin’ with $10.4 billion in systemwide sales
- Burger King with $10 billion in systemwide sales
These locations sell popular food items like chicken, burgers, sandwiches, burritos, and coffee.
Burgers, chicken, sandwiches, and burritos are typically higher in sodium and fats than food made at home. Also, coffees from fast food locations typically have more sugar than black coffee with sugar added or one created with a coffee machine!
How Often Do People Eat Fast Food?
Americans eat out about 1-3 times a week, with 1 out of every 3 eating fast food at least once a day.
With millions of people in the country ingesting this quick meal, is there any variation based on differences in the population? Let’s take a look at fast food ingestion in varying groups of people.
Men and women have different fast food ingestion rates. According to one study from Research Gate, men report eating out much more often than their female counterparts.
In a study of 113 men and 113 women in college, 84% of men and 58% of women reported eating fast food for lunch at least once a week.
There were also differences in what they ordered. About 70% of men and 63% of women reported going to a burger joint, while 41% of men and 21% ordered a carbonated drink while they were out. There were significant differences in the frequency of eating out and what was eaten when it occurred.
Age also plays a role in whether or not a person eats out often. According to a study done by Statista, the 45-64 age group reported eating out the most often with 38% of the group eating out once a week or more. The 18-29 age group ate out the least often, with only 18% eating out once a week or more.
This difference could be due to the vast spread of online information in the younger group or the fact that they have less money and time on their hands. Either way, those in the middle-aged end of the spectrum tend to eat out more than their younger counterparts.
There are also different habits with eating out depending on the race of the individual. According to a study done by the CDC, non-hispanic black adults had the highest rate of eating out at 42.4%.
They were followed by non-Hispanic white adults at 37.6%, Hispanic adults at 35.5%, then non-Hispanic Asian adults at 30.6%.
The same study reported there were no drastic differences between men and women in each group during the study. Men of a specific race tended to eat out about the same amount as women of that specific race, keeping the percentages about the same for each group.
Long-Term Risks Associated With Fast Food
Several long-term risks come with eating out. It’s helpful to have these statistics in your head if you want to stay healthy because long-term issues tend to sneak up and wait to appear in people until it’s too late.
Lack of nutrients, sedentary lifestyles, and poor food quality will build up in the body over time and cause extreme health issues. Let’s talk about some of the stats associated with eating fast food over time.
Eating fast food is associated with a higher risk for obesity. According to Help Guide, the average adult eats about 860 calories per serving when picking a meal at a fast food location.
Fast food is typically high in fat and, when combined with high calories and a sedentary lifestyle, it’s easy to gain body fat.
One study from News Medical reported a higher consumption of fast food with a higher rate of weight gain in the United States and the United Kingdom. When you eat at home, you can enjoy similar foods for fewer calories and less fat and sodium.
Type 2 Diabetes
Another long-term effect of fast food is type 2 diabetes. This disease occurs when your body can’t produce insulin or the insulin in your body does not work, leading to required management of these levels and limitations on what you can eat.
One study from 2004 showed that eating fast food can double your chances of developing insulin resistance, which can then turn into diabetes over time.
The number of people with diabetes has almost tripled since the 80s, and fast food overconsumption in the United States has only sped up the process.
Finally, eating fast food regularly can lead to severe cardiovascular troubles in time. Those who live in the general vicinity of fast food locations are more than 2x as likely as others to experience issues with their heart in time!
Most scientists associate overconsumption of fast food with fatal and nonfatal heart attacks. The addition of fat, sodium, and high calories is not good for the average human body.
Short-Term Risks Associated With Fast Food
Not only are there long-term risks associated with fast food, but there are also some things that happen right away. The body reacts differently to ingredients in fast food than it would to something made at home in your own kitchen or on your grill.
Typically, fast food is higher in salt, sugar, saturated fat, and trans fats. Unfortunately, these additions aren’t great for the body and can cause many things to happen from the moment the first bite enters the body.
Spike In Blood Sugar
Fast food can lead to a sudden spike in blood sugar from all the processing that happens to the food. According to Medical News Today, fast food is high in calories and low in vitamins, minerals, and materials that break down the body, leading to a sudden spike in blood sugar with the lack of assistance.
A report from Diabetes Research reveals that about 11% of the United States population is diabetic.
Overconsumption of fast food is hard on the body and even more difficult for those whose bodies already have a tricky time breaking down food and keeping blood sugar levels at a normal place.
Eating lots of fast food can hurt your digestion because it’s much lower in fiber than the food you might make at home. Without fiber, your body will have trouble breaking down the food and giving your body what it needs.
In time, trouble with digestion will lead to constipation, reduction of good gut bacteria, and diverticular disease. Yikes!
Lower Nutrient Intake
Eating fast food also hurts the nutrient intake in your system. Instead of getting what your body needs, you receive excessive sodium and high levels of fat.
You probably won’t hit your recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables and your fiber intake will be much lower than it should be. More fast food means fewer nutrients.
Mental Health Impacts of Fast Food
Eating fast food can impact your mental health for the worse. According to Bayside Psychotherapy, fast food ingestion can lead to issues like memory troubles, irritability, depression, addiction, anxiety, sugar addiction, higher dementia risk, mood swings, lower self-control, and more.
The more you eat out, the higher your risk for these outcomes. A large factor at play is the low amount of helpful nutrients found in fast food.
Money Spent On Fast Food
According to Colby College, the average American spends around $1,200 on fast food a year. Of course, that number is just the average – some people spend far more than $1,200 to get their fast food fix!
Fast food is cheap, and that’s the appeal and danger of the product. It feels like you aren’t spending a ton of money, but it adds up fast.
Worst Fast Food Options
If you’re going to eat out, some options are healthier than others. There are a few foods that are way worse than others.
Here are the least healthy fast food options available:
- Pizza: A typical slice of pizza has at least 300 calories and over 600 milligrams of sodium. Plus, who only eats one piece?
- Burger and fries: This classic duo can have more than 1,200 calories and 1,600 milligrams of sodium. That’s almost two meals!
- Cold-cut combo: Not only does lunch meat have around 1,300 milligrams of sodium, but it’s also packed with saturated fat and carcinogenic additives.
- Hot dog: This highly-processed meal has excessive fat and more than a third of your daily suggestion for sodium.
- Fried chicken: Fat, high calories, and excessive sodium make this tasty meal a terrible burden for your body.
These are the worst for the body.
Look out for foods with too much fat, sodium, or calories. It takes work to find a decently healthy option when eating out, but it’s worth making that effort!
What Is The Solution?
Although fast food tastes good, it isn’t great for you. The best thing you can do is cook for yourself at home. Instead of eating a burger and fries from Wendy’s, whip one up on your Traeger grill.
Instead of buying fried chicken, smoke the meat for fewer calories and lower sodium. You’ll find that it’s not much more effort for food that is much better for you.
While grilling may seem like a challenge, it’s our goal here at The Grilling Dad to teach you the tips and tricks for making grilling easier than stopping by your local fast food joint! Start by checking out our How to Grill Guide.
Limiting your fast food intake by eating at home is the best way to stay on the good side of statistics. Plus, you will feel all the more accomplished when you take that first bite of your home-cooked meal!