Fast Food and Obesity

Although fast food gets blamed for causing obesity, the fact is that it is not a "cause" of obesity. Fast food is high in calories and typically comes in large portions, but a person could eat fast food on a regular basis and not become obese. In some cases, people can lose weight while eating fast food if they burn more calories than they consume.

Does Fast Food Cause Obesity?

It seems like fast food is almost a daily topic in the news. Whether it is because of their ingredients (such as trans fat), the negative health effects (like diabetes), or being linked to obesity, fast food dominates the headlines. This then begs the question, "Does fast food cause obesity?" The simple answer is no. Consuming more calories from food than the body can burn is what causes weight gain. While environmental factors, such as regularly eating fast food, may increase the risk of obesity, they are not a cause of obesity (see Causes of Obesity or Causes of Childhood Obesity). In other words, they are risk factors.
 
This means that you could eat fast food on a regular basis and not become obese. In fact, you can even lose weight while eating fast food. This, however, requires knowledge of not only how many calories you are burning on a daily basis, but also the calories in the food that you are eating.
 

What Does the Research Say?

Fast food is not the cause of obesity in today's society. However, because fast food is typically high in calories and the portions are large, it does promote eating too many calories, which can lead to weight gain and obesity.
 
Research has shown that people who eat fast food consume more calories than people who do not eat fast food. Those who eat fast food also consume more fat, saturated fat, and sodium (salt), while consuming fewer fruits, vegetables, and milk.
 
Research has also shown that fast food from major chains still has unacceptable levels of trans fat. Trans fats have a significant effect on the body and may contribute to weight gain, abdominal obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
 
Finally, when compared to 10 years ago, portion sizes continue to be the same or larger at the major fast food chains.
 
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