In 2018, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that 36.6% of adults consumed fast food on a given day. This means that, daily, one out of three Americans will choose to visit a fast food restaurant. The alarming data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, released by the CDC, breaks down this testimony even further to show that:
- Those aged 20-39 consumed the most fast food at 44.9%;
- Fast food consumption increases with family income;
- Men eat more fast food than women.
The dangers of regular fast food consumption are widely known. This often-processed food, which is high in fat, sugar, and empty calories, is historically linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, digestive issues, and even cancer. However, even an infrequent consumption of fast food may exacerbate gastroenterological problems, turning them into a disorder such as GERD.
Decreasing fast food consumption rates in the U.S. should make for a healthier society. While nationwide examinations of the fast food sensation are being conducted, their findings should be understood by any individual who is looking to live a happier, healthier life.
Why Do Americans Eat So Much Fast Food?
Americans eat fast food for a variety of reasons, but most of these reasons tie into a central theme of convenience. Fast food is quick, relatively cheap, and made by someone other than you or a family member. America is a country with plenty of hard-working citizens, so time and money are often highly valued.
It is pretty simple to swing your car into a drive-through and order an inexpensive meal for the family within minutes. This can be more wildly appealing than coming home from an eight-hour work shift, preparing a meal, and then spending an hour or two cooking it. If that is not enough, supermarket prices can be spendy, and grocery trips can be time-consuming.
While fast food is often cheap and easy, it’s potentially damaging effects on the human body should not go overlooked.
The Effects of Fast Food on the Body
The ingredients in fast food can wreak havoc on our bodies and overall health. From high blood pressure and cholesterol, to blood sugar spikes to weight gain, it is clear that fast food often does not contain the nutrients the body needs, while introducing high levels of a diet we don’t need. Fast food can contain many ingredients which are contradictory to a balanced diet, including:
- Carbohydrates with little to no fiber. Many fast foods are packed with carbohydrates that our digestive system has trouble breaking down. When broken down, these carbs turned to glucose, or sugar — which increases your blood sugar. Prolonged fast food consumption can lead to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and weight gain.
- High sugars and fat. Added sugar means extra (empty) calories. It also is a hazard to your cardiovascular system and can lead to cardiovascular disease. Foods that are high in fats, especially trans fat, can increase bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol, lead to type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
- Sodium. A high sodium diet, which includes regular fast food consumption, can lead to high blood pressure, bloating, and water retention.
Fast food can affect not only your weight, cardiovascular system, and lead to diabetes, but it can also impact your respiratory system, central nervous system, reproductive system, and more. Common symptoms can include depression, acne, shortness of breath, and even acid reflux — but these symptoms can escalate over time until they represent chronic conditions. Simply put, when consumed in excessive quantities, fast food will negatively affect your body.
Improving Nutrition in America
Nutrition in America has become a subject of much conversation. Movements are being made to make changes in school lunches for the health of our youth, encouraging more exercise, and assisting those with low incomes so they can buy more nutritious food.
Ultimately, it falls upon individuals to foster a healthy lifestyle and include their children to propel the notion of healthy eating onward. However, while a healthy lifestyle and diet may be demanding for some, there are several simple steps you can take to help establish the foundation of living a healthy life.
Tips for Staying Healthy
Abstaining from eating fast food is one step to staying healthy, but there are several efforts you should always strive to maintain to live the healthiest life you can:
- Limit Your Calorie Intake. Naturally, this includes cutting out junk and fast food. You can also cut calories by counting them, eating small portions, including vegetables in every meal, and eating slower.
- Exercise Regularly. Taking time for a consistent exercise routine can help you control your weight, combat several health conditions, improve your mood and energy, and help you sleep better.
- Meal Prep. Prepping your own meals can allow you to keep an eye on your caloric intake, prepare smaller meals, and include the nutritious foods your body needs such as fruits and vegetables. It can also allow tailoring your diet according to any medical conditions you may have. One common issue involving certain foods is heartburn and acid reflux; having control and preparing the right foods can lessen reflux symptoms and other problems related to diet.
- Less Sugar, More Water. Many times, and especially with fast food meals, consumers drink a large amount of sugar in the form of soft drinks. Choosing water instead of soda can drastically reduce sugar intake — and therefore empty calories.
Find a Friend. It might be easier to stick to a diet when you make a pact with a friend. This agreement can hold you accountable for holding up your end of the bargain. Similarly, hitting the gym with a friend can be much easier and having a workout buddy can be fun.