Fast Food Favored by All Income Levels
There is a perception, often fueled by the media, that because it’s inexpensive, fast food is mainly consumed by lower income people. However, if you visit one of these restaurants in a nice middle class neighborhood, you will likely see at least a few luxury cars in the parking lot or exiting the drive through. And even President Trump—a certified billionaire—has been spotted with food from McDonald’s. But if anecdotal evidence isn’t enough, new research shows that individuals all across the socioeconomic spectrum are eating fast food and eating it regularly.
The study, which took place at the Ohio State University in Columbus, found that people from lower, middle, and higher income households all partake in the consumption of fast food, and those in the lowest income brackets aren’t even the ones indulging the most.1 The subjects were more than 8,000 men and women taking part in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a long-running investigation focused on tracking cohorts of participants born in certain groups of years.
The volunteers answered questionnaires in 2008, 2010, and 2012 relating to their consumption of fast food. During the years covered, the participants were all middle aged, somewhere in their 40s or 50s. They were asked such questions as how many times in the previous seven days they had eaten fast food at establishments including Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and the like.
It turned out that, when all the results were tallied across the board, a whopping 79 percent of the subjects reported consuming fast food at least once during any of the weeks included in the study. What’s more, 23 percent of the people said they had eaten three or more of their meals from fast food restaurants.
When the respondents were classified into 10 groups based on their income levels, the outcomes remained remarkably consistent. Among those with the lowest 10 percent of income, approximately 80 percent consumed fast food at least once in a research week. But the figures were very similar among those in the wealthiest income bracket, with 75 percent of that population consuming fast food at least once in a research week. But those in the middle of the socioeconomic scale were found to be the most likely to choose fast food, with 85 percent eating it at least once in a research week.
The percentages were also converted to an average number of fast food meals consumed over the course of the three weeks focused upon in the years covered. Those in the lowest income group ate approximately 3.6 fast food meals on average, while the richest group ate approximately 3.0, and the middle-income group ate approximately 4.2. And the patterns of consumption did not appear to change even in cases of a dramatic shift in wealth, for better or for worse.
So if affordability isn’t the main factor driving people to choose a fast food restaurant over one with a healthier menu, what is? The researchers suggest that fast food consumption may have more to do with its convenience and fast turnaround time. And if you ever eat fast food, you can probably confirm those are your most common reasons as well. Fast food is quick and easy—and dare I say, fast. And in many neighborhoods, these restaurants are ubiquitous.
Therefore, no matter what your income, eating fast food is more than likely a habit, and not a healthy one. But this is a habit you can break with a little effort (if you can maintain resistance to the kids’ nagging). It is often a matter of planning ahead so that you don’t end up tired, hungry, and pulling into the drive-through just to make your life easier. Because let’s face it, you are likely not scheduling your fast food dinners in advance, but instead grabbing them in a rush on your way home or in-between activities.
When you know you’re going to have the type of hectic day that often results in a fast-food run, consider bringing along healthy snacks to satisfy you until you can get home to make a nutritious dinner. If the problem isn’t immediate hunger but the lack of desire to start cooking after a long day, prepare your meal in advance. Perhaps you can cook a double portion the night before or dedicate some time over your weekend to cooking a few meals to freeze for the week. Or simplest of all, at least for middle and high income households, you can make use of one of the new wave of meal delivery services. In any case, a little foresight can go a very long way to keeping you out of the fast food place and on track with a healthy eating plan.
- 1. Zagorsky, Jay L. and Smith, Patricia K. "The association between socioeconomic status and adult fast-food consumption in the U.S." Economics & Human Biology. November 2017. Accessed 10 May 2017. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1570677X16300363.