Eating Fast Food Increases Calorie Intake and Decreases Nutrient Consumption

by Dr Sam Girgis on November 8, 2012

The world is becoming increasingly fast paced and instant gratification has tended to be the driving factor for the success of many products.  In the food industry, this is also true and has spawned an entire fast food segment that is a multibillion-dollar a year business.  From the late 1970s to the early 2000s, the consumption of fast food has increased from 2% to 13% among children aged 2 to 18 years.  As a result, we have witnessed the emergence and growth of both obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemics among children.  We have previously discussed the negative health impact of Western style fast food on a Chinese Singaporean population.  In addition, we have discussed the contribution of sugar-sweetened beverages on the childhood obesity epidemic.

Researchers, led by Dr. Lisa M. Powell from the University of Illinois at Chicago, have found that eating fast food outside of the home results in increased calorie intake with foods that are poor in nutrient content.  The results of their study were published online in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.  The researchers examined the effects of fast food and full-service restaurants on total energy intake, dietary indicators, and beverage consumption using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.  The study participants included 4,717 children aged 2 to 11 years and 4,699 adolescents aged 12 to 19 years.

The researchers found that fast food and full-service restaurant consumption was associated with increased daily total energy intake of 126.29 kcal and 160.49 kcal for children and 309.53 kcal and 267.30 kcal for adolescents, respectively.  In addition, food consumed from fast food and full service restaurants was associated with increased intake of regular soda and sugar-sweetened beverages.  Fast food consumption increased intake of total fat, saturated fat, and sugar for both groups and sodium and protein intake for adolescents.  The researchers concluded that fast food and full service restaurant consumption was linked to increased total calorie intake and poorer diet quality.

The authors wrote, “the study results show that consuming from a fast-food restaurant was associated with a net increase in total daily energy intake… the evidence clearly suggests that nonrestaurant caloric intake is not sufficiently reduced to compensate for additional calories obtained on days when consuming from restaurants. Furthermore, restaurant consumption among children and adolescents was significantly related to higher nutrient intake of sugar, total fat, saturated fat, and sodium. In particular, for example, fast-food consumption among adolescents increased sugar, total fat, saturated fat, and sodium intake…Soda and [sugar sweetened beverage] intake was significantly higher on days that children and adolescents consumed from restaurants, particularly for adolescents”.

The authors offered a possible solution when they wrote, “Overall, the findings of higher energy and [sugar sweetened beverage] intake and poorer nutrient intake associated with consuming from restaurants suggest that public policies that aim to reduce restaurant consumption—such as increasing the relative costs of these purchases; limiting access through zoning, particularly around schools; limiting portion sizes; and limiting exposure to marketing deserve serious consideration”.

These results provide more evidence that our diet, particularly that from fast food, is contributing to increased calorie intake, poor nutrient content, and worsening of overall health.  This is particularly true to children and adolescents as pointed out by this study.  As recommended in this paper, health policy expert should pay close attention to these results as they have relevance to the public health of our children and adolescents and the future health of adults in this country.  Regulations to slow the overall trend that is observed in this study should be implemented.  A key to reversing this alarming trend will be education of our children and adolescents about the hazards of fast food and the negative health impact that can result from over consumption of these foods.



Lisa M. Powell and Binh T. Nguyen “Fast-Food and Full-Service Restaurant Consumption Among Children and Adolescents: Effect on Energy, Beverage, and Nutrient IntakeArch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012; (): 1-7. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.417

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