The Deadly Duo: Western Style Fast Food and Sugar Sweetened Beverages

by Dr Sam Girgis on December 6, 2012

The number one factor that determines our health is our genetic makeup.  Diseases tend to run in families and some diseases are passed on from parents to children.  After genetics, the next biggest factor that determines our health is our diet.  The link between diet and health is becoming increasingly relevant due to the growing obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemics.

In western society, particularly in the United States, the food industry has become a multibillion dollar endeavor that strives to induce people to consume more and more food.  If more food is consumed, the profit margin will increase.  In order to accomplish this end, the food industry has packed its processed foods with high amounts of sugar and salt and other unhealthy, but tasty ingredients.

Western style fast food and sugar sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks and sodas, are the typical example of how the food industry has attempted to increase consumption of their products in order to increase their profit margin at the expense of health.  We can refer to these food items as the Deadly Duo.  These two categories of food are likely responsible for a large portion of the obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemics.

So, where’s the proof? How is our diet fueling the obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemics?

Recent research has provided evidence that the Deadly Duo contributes to increased weight, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and ultimately to negative health outcomes.  Western style fast food and sugar sweetened beverages are killing us, and here’s the proof…

Researchers from the University Of Minnesota School Of Public Health studied the influence of Western style fast food on the health of a Singapore Chinese population.  Western style fast food has only recently become available in this population, and thus the influence upon health could more easily be studied.  Among the study participants who consumed Western style fast food at least twice a week, the odds of developing type 2 diabetes increased by 27% and the odds of having a heart attack increased by 56% when compared to those who did not consume any Western style fast food.  When the consumption of Western style fast food increased to 4 times per week, the likelihood of dying from a heart attack was almost 80% greater than those who did not consume any Western style fast food.

In related research, the influence of sugar sweetened beverages on weight was studied in children by researchers from VU University Amsterdam.  Normal weight children were randomly assigned to receive 8 ounces per day of a sugar sweetened drink or a sugar free drink for an 18 month period.  The children consuming the sugar sweetened beverages gained significantly more weight when compared to the group receiving sugar free beverages.  In addition, skinfold thickness measurements, waist-to-height ratio, and fat mass also increased significantly in the sugar group when compared to the sugar free group.

These two studies provide convincing evidence that our diet is contributing to weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.  Health policy makers need to be involved in establishing new recommendations to help limit the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages and Western style fast food.  This has begun to occur in New York City with an imminent ban on soda drinks greater than 16 ounces.  Although this has been met with some resistance, this may be one way to slow the growing obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemics.



Andrew O. Odegaard, et al. “Western-Style Fast Food Intake and Cardio-Metabolic Risk in an Eastern CountryCirculation published online before print July 2, 2012, doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.084004

Janne C. de Ruyter et al. “A Trial of Sugar-free or Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Body Weight in ChildrenN. Engl. J. Med. September 21, 2012 doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1203034


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