Fast Food and Obesity


Does fast food cause obesity? That depends on what you might call fast food. The simple answer is no, but the explanation of how fast food and obesity are interrelated may surprise you.

Before we begin, you might want to read a little about the history of childhood obesity in order to see how this correlation between fast food and obesity may prove true.

White Castle restaurant has been credited with creating the first “fast food” chain back in 1921. However, hamburgers weren’t even eaten regularly and were considered unclean and unsafe back then. (My how times have changed!)

At this same time, there was practically no mention of obesity in the US or elsewhere. People were overweight, but not to the extent that we are today. Since obesity was almost non-existent, an author in the Literary Digest in 1923 asked ““Are we going to become a physically lazy nation, and, through lack of exercise, a people of pendulous abdomens and small legs?”
Seems as though the 1920’s may have been a precursor to our hefty sizes today.

In the 1940’s, drive in restaurants were first established and began growing in popularity across the US. Obesity begins to rise, but very few statistics were kept. This was the age of our parents and grandparents. The World War II Era. The first McDonald’s had just opened toward the end of the decade. Now fast food was just beginning to take off.

Obesity in the 1950’s

Now we are beginning to see obesity in the news, and statisticians are keeping track of the health of our nation. We now have solid data from that bygone age and we can get real facts on how fat we are. Still, “Does fast food cause obesity” is being asked and answered in several different ways. You decide for yourself

In pre-1940, it is almost impossible to find data on the rate of obesity in America. However, in the 1950’s, we do have some pretty good data to work with.

So, does fast food cause obesity? Here is an article that gives vital information that may relate to that question.

According to the CDC, Americans had a 33% prevelance of being overweight, and a 9.7% prevelance of obesity. Also, there was no data showing that anyone was “severely obese” (BMI >40).

However, flash forward a decade, and we see obesity on the rise, and the number of fast food chains growing as well. McDonalds was franchising all over California and eventually outside of the state in the fifties. KFC got its start in 1952 in Salt Lake City. Burger King started in Miami in 1954. Pizza Hut opened its first door in 1958 in Wichita. So we begin to see a rise in fast food franchises in the 1950s. Of course they took a little time to catch on, but they were household names by the 1960s. Does fast food cause obesity? Keep reading to find out more…

Obesity in the 1960s and 1970s

In the 1960s, obesity went up about to about 11.3% of the nation. By the 1970s, obesity was well into the double digits at 14.4%. Also in the 1970s, Americans spent a total of $6 Billion on fast food! As you can see, fast food and obesity have a small correlation at this time.

Obesity in the last two decades

Flash forward to the 1980s when there was a 78% increase in the number of fast food stores during the decade. By the end of the 80s, there were almost 120,000 fast food restaurants in the US.

During that same time, obesity in the US rose to almost one quarter of the population (23%)! The number of overweight individuals surpassed the 50% mark and reached 56% of the population. Things are starting to look glum, aren’t they?

By the end of the 1990s, obesity finally rose to 30%! That is almost one in three people being considered obese. Not to mention the fact that two-thirds of the nation was considered overweight in 2000. At that same time, guess how much Americans spent on fast food? Well, obesity doubled since the 70s, think maybe spending doubled too? Try again! Drum roll please….

Americans spent $110 billion on fast food in 2000!

Disgusted? Me too! And, in 2006 it was expected to reach $142 Billion

Considering about one in three people are obese and we are spending more on fast food now than any other time in history, it sill begs the question, “Does fast food cause obesity?”

I would have to say that when coupled with our lack of physical activity and the horrendous nutritional value of most fast food, that yes, fast food is contributing to the rising tide of obesity in adults and children alike!

What do you think? Does fast food cause obesity? Please let us know and add a comment in the blog or tag this feed and comment there.