Fast food is an American original—quick, easy, relatively inexpensive and it’s become a cultural icon. According to a recent Research International USA study, more than half of our country (57 percent) has been to McDonald’s in the past month, followed by Subway (37 percent), Burger King (36 percent), Taco Bell (33 percent), Wendy’s (32 percent) and KFC (27 percent). Because most fast food is purchased hot, it isn’t required to have a nutrition label (even though this is beginning to change in some places), so you won’t know the trans fat, saturated fat or overall fat content.
If you don’t know already, trans fats increase your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke, make cholesterol worse, and are thought to be 10 times worse overall than saturated fats. The minimum amount of trans fat a person can consume, and not increase this risk—is zero. And, if Americans would reduce the amount of trans fats they are currently consuming—much of it from fast food, the Center for Science in the Public Interest estimates 30,000 to 100,000 deaths from heart disease could be prevented each year.
But in addition to the trans fat, consumers of fast food also eat more dietary and saturated fat, and fewer fruits and vegetables. The 15-year CARDIA study linked fast food to type 2 diabetes and weight gain. In fact, a 2004 study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion found that states with the most fast food restaurants per square mile also have the highest obesity rates.
So, we know it’s tasty (usually), convenient, abundant, inexpensive and fast. But let us ask—does fast food really reflect American attitudes and culture? Does it really reflect our values? What about our health and wellness? What about the quality of our lives long-term? What does it say about what we pass on to our children? America has led the fast food revolution. Maybe we can also show the world that we’ve learned from our mistakes and start a new, sustainable movement toward real food and healthier lives.