Fast-Food Factors

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Fast food — not just burgers and fries, but the entire range of quickly served food — remains an immensely popular alternative to cooking and eating at home. According to a 2008 study commissioned by the industry, Americans spend an average of about $500 per person each year on fast food, with more than half of the population eating it at least once a week. While the most popular fast-food restaurant is McDonald’s — 57% of Americans had eaten there in the month prior to the survey — the second most popular chain is Subway, drawing 37% of the population. The range of fast-food options continues to grow, and these restaurants claim a diverse customer base.

Despite the variety of options available, eating fast food is still associated with a lower intake of fresh produce and whole grains, and a higher intake of refined carbohydrates, sodium, and total calories. Since it can broadly be classified as unhealthy, many researchers are interested in finding out exactly why Americans choose fast food as often as they do. This question was addressed in a recent set of short essays by food experts in The New York Times.

Participants disagreed about whether or not the main problem was a lack of information or knowledge about healthy eating. One writer noted that it is not poorer households who patronize fast-food establishments the most; in fact, households earning $80,000 annually consume more fast food on average than those earning $30,000. These higher-income households presumably can afford, and have access to, high-quality produce and other healthy ingredients found at the supermarket. They simply prefer the convenience and taste that fast food offers, or they feel they don’t have enough time to plan and prepare home-cooked meals. Another writer, having heard from many Americans who are confused about what they should eat, countered that Americans could indeed use more information on eating well.

While the participants mostly agreed that preparing more food at home is an important step toward good nutrition, they disagreed about what it would take for a shift of this kind to happen. Some felt that education and information could bring about such a change, while others felt that a lack of time to prepare food and a preference for convenience over nutrition were the real culprits.

What do you think — what motivates you to eat at fast-food restaurants when you do? Do you believe you cook at home more than you would if you didn’t have diabetes? Is saving money a factor in your food decisions? Do you feel you have enough time or nutrition and culinary expertise to prepare meals at home with confidence? Leave a comment below! (And be sure to check out our recipes section for diabetes-friendly ideas.)

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