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Grabbing a Quick Bite Nabs More Calories

By Rosalie Bliss
May 21, 2004

Every day, about one-fourth of U.S. adults over age 20 eat fast food and drink twice as many sugary, carbonated soft drinks as those who don't eat fast food, a new Agricultural Research Service study of more than 9,000 survey respondents reports. These fast-food eaters consumed substantially higher amounts of calories, fats, carbohydrates, added sugars and proteins than their non-fast-food-eating counterparts.

The study was led by ARS nutritionist Shanthy A. Bowman, with the agency's Beltsville (Md.) Human Nutrition Research Center. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

Foods obtained from pizza and fast food places were collectively defined as fast food in the study.

The nationally representative respondents were surveyed for two nonconsecutive days by USDA-ARS. Those who consumed fast food on either or both days, when compared to those who didn't, showed higher mean body mass indexes and higher odds of being overweight.

Although fast food provided one-third of some respondents' daily caloric intakes, those meals included almost no milk, fruit or fruit juices, which are important nutrient sources among key food groups. In fact, as the frequency of fast food consumption increased from zero days to two days, the intake levels of vitamins A and C, carotenes, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium decreased.

The existing USDA dietary intake survey data, which the authors analyzed, was collected in the mid-1990s. The results showed a significant increase in fast food consumption from the early 1990s, when the previous survey had been conducted.

Increased work-week hours and a doubling of the number of U.S. fast food restaurants to about 250,000 in the past 25 years have influenced the amount of time people spend on food shopping and meal preparation. The researchers concluded that planning weekly meals and related grocery shopping will help adults resist the fast-meal decisions that lead to grabbing a quick bite.

The study appears in the current Journal of the American College of Nutrition.