Rising obesity rates aren’t just expanding waistlines; they’re also causing a shocking increase in chronic health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
To curb this health crisis, researchers have made significant efforts to find the culprit behind this excessive weight epidemic. It’s likely no surprise that fast food has emerged as one of the most prominent contributing factors.
But how much are our cravings for convenience tipping the scales? We’ve rounded up 25 new obesity and fast food statistics to help us bite back against this alarming trend.
- Obesity prevalence increased from 30.5% to 41.9% from 2017 to 2020.
- 1 in 5 US children and adolescents are obese.
- Children who attend school within 0.10 miles of a fast food restaurant have a 5.2% higher chance of being obese.
- The countries with the highest rates of fast food consumption include the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.
- 31.57% of Americans eat fast food 1-3 times per week.
- Alabama has the most fast food restaurants, with 6.3 restaurants for every 10,000 residents
- 79% of children’s fast food consumption is Mcdonald’s.
- Fast food meals contain, on average, 726 calories.
- Soda increases the sugar content of a fast food meal by ten times.
- 46% of Americans say the highest barrier to healthy eating is cost.
25 New Obesity and Fast Food Statistics
Here’s a list of the most important obesity and fast food statistics you should be aware of:
The Annual Medical Cost for Obesity Was $173 Million in 2019
On average, the medical costs for an adult with obesity were more than $1,800 greater than those at a healthy weight.
Obesity Prevalence Was 41.9% From 2017 to 2020
This percentage represents an 11.4% increase from 1999-2000.
The States With the Highest Rates of Obesity Are Kentucky, Alabama, and Oklahoma
These states also have high poverty rates, which research shows has a strong correlation with obesity rates due to convenience and more affordable prices than fresh, whole foods.
The States With the Lowest Rates of Obesity Are the District of Columbia, Hawaii, and Colorado
The obesity rates in these states are 24.7%, 25.0%, and 25.1%, respectively.
Obesity Requires a Body Mass Index (BMI) Over 30
It’s worth mentioning that many in the medical community consider BMI an incomplete resource for determining healthy weights, as it does not take into account muscle mass.
For comparison, the complete BMI reference range is as follows:
- Underweight = less than 18.5
- Normal weight = 18.5-24.9
- Overweight = 25-29.9
- Obese = greater than 30
1 in 5 US Children and Adolescents Are Obese
These rates directly correlate to socioeconomic status, with children living in households with higher incomes having a lower prevalence of obesity than those with lower incomes.
Childhood Obesity Is Most Prevalent in 12-19-Year-Olds, at 22.2%
It is least common in the 2-5-year-old age bracket, at 12.7%, but increases significantly from 6-11 to 20.7%.
Children Who Attend School Within 0.10 Miles of a Fast Food Restaurant Have a 5.2% Higher Chance of Being Obese
Interestingly, there is no significant effect when fast food restaurants are within a quarter-mile or half-mile of a school. This likely means that children’s ability to walk to the restaurant on the way to or from school is a significant factor.
More Than One-Third of Children and Adolescents Eat Fast Food Daily
The survey, which includes data from 2015-2018, also noted that this age group gets 13.8% of their daily caloric intake from fast food.
McDonald’s Spent $32.9 Million on Happy Meal Television Ads in 2016
The same study found a relationship between children who saw more fast food commercials also consuming more of these types of foods, even if their parents rarely consumed fast food themselves.
79% Of Children’s Fast Food Consumption Is McDonald’s
Researchers have connected this phenomenon back to Mcdonald’s advertising practices, which account for nearly 75% of the fast food TV commercials children see.
39.8% Of Adults Aged 20-39 Are Obese, Representing the Lowest Obesity Rates in Any Adult Age Group
The CDC also reports that 44.5% of adults aged 40-59 and 41.5% of adults aged 60 or older are obese, which suggests that the condition tends to peak during middle age.
Globally, 11 Million Deaths per Year Are the Result of Poor Diet
These deaths are linked explicitly to high sodium intake and low fruit and vegetable intake, leading to several health conditions, including hypertension and malnutrition.
The Countries With the Highest Rates of Fast Food Consumption Include the United States, United Kingdom, and France
The other countries included on the list, in order from highest consumption to lowest, included:
- South Korea
The US Fast Food Industry Is Worth More Than $330 Billion as of 2022
According to the report, burgers and sandwiches accounted for 42% of the market demand, but Asian and Latin food is expected to experience the most growth by 2028.
31.57% Of Americans Eat Fast Food 1-3 Times per Week
On the bright side, this number is on a downward trend from 37.5% in 2016 and 31.89% in 2017.
48% Of Americans Believe Fast Food Is “Not Too Good for You”
Interestingly, this same group represents the highest number of fast food consumers, with 54% of these respondents eating fast food at least weekly.
The Average American Scores 59 Out of 100 on the Healthy Eating Index
This resource, a joint effort of the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, comes out every five years and aims to teach Americans evidence-backed information on healthful eating habits and chronic disease prevention.
Its primary tenant is promoting nutritionally dense food choices for 85% of caloric intake, with 15% leftover for processed foods and alcohol.
Alabama Has the Most Fast Food Restaurants, at 6.3 Restaurants for Every 10,000 Residents
As mentioned, this state also has the second-highest obesity rate in America, providing further evidence for the relationship between fast food consumption and weight gain.
Fast Food Consumption Is Linked to an Increased Risk of Fat Gain, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Hypertension
This review also notes that adolescents and young adults who consumed fast food twice or more per week gained at least 10 pounds more over 15 years than those who did so only once weekly.
Fast Food Meals Contain, on Average, 726 Calories
The full range for an entree and a side was 215-1,710 calories. However, sit-down restaurants had even more egregious numbers, with dishes ranging from 219-2,350 and averaging 1,087 calories.
How many calories a meal has exactly will depend on how large it is and how it’s cooked. Many fast food restaurants now offer calorie and nutrition information on their websites.
An Average Slice of Pizza Contains 300 Calories and 680 MG of Sodium
These nutritional facts can vary based on toppings, but when you consider that we rarely enjoy a single slice, it’s clear why pizza is one of the biggest offenders in the fight against obesity.
Of course, this number depends on certain factors like the size of the slice and the ingredients used. If you’re treating yourself to a slice, make sure to ask the chef or server about the health information.
Soda Increases the Sugar Content of a Fast Food Meal by Ten Times
It might seem silly to opt for a diet cola when ordering fast food, but doing so significantly decreases your risk of overindulging in sugar, leading to insulin resistance and diabetes. Other hidden sources of sugar include ketchup, breakfast parfaits, and salad dressing.
46% Of Americans Say the Highest Barrier To Healthy Eating Is Cost
Furthermore, 26% said they didn’t have the time to cook and prepare healthy meals, and 20% said they lacked the necessary culinary knowledge.
The Average Adult Underestimates the Sodium Content in Their Fast Food Meal by 650%
To conduct this study, researchers visited several restaurants– some of which included McDonald’s, Subway, and Dunkin’ Donuts– and asked them to estimate how much salt they ate during their meals. The average guess was 200 mg, but the answer, in most cases, was closer to 1,300 mg.
The study also found that 89% of Americans consume 3,600 mg of salt daily, more than the upper recommended daily limit of 2,300 mg.
The relationship between obesity and fast food is a complex topic that spans several factors, from socioeconomic status to geographic location. Price in particular is a dominating factor in how people choose to eat. With the cost of healthy eating, it is cheaper for many to choose fast food.
What these statistics demonstrate, though, is an apparent link between consuming fast food and diet-related health concerns, including excessive weight gain. While the occasional convenience meal isn’t a problem, it’s best enjoyed, like many things, in moderation.