American Society For Nutrition

Fast Food Catches a Break as Scapegoat for Obesity

Fast Food Catches a Break as Scapegoat for Obesity

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
Posted on 08/13/2013 at 01:18:30 PM by Student Blogger
By Corrie Whisner, PhD

With Americans tipping the scales in epidemic proportions, fast food restaurants often take the blame for obesity. However, a recent study by Drs. Adam Drewnowski and Colin Rehm at University of Washington suggested that restaurants and fast food joints aren't necessarily to blame. Instead, the evidence states that 63-70% of American's calories come from food purchased at the store.

Overall, adults consumed greater proportions (26.3%) of their energy from restaurants when compared to teens 12-19 y who obtained slightly less than a quarter of their energy from fast food and full service restaurants combined. Interestingly, vending machines, which often serve as a scapegoat for obesity, had a negligible contribution to teen energy consumption at <1% of total caloric consumption.

Not what you expected? I was surprised myself. In fact, the minute I read the abstract for this study my mind started whirling around the public health relevance of this finding. Concerns over increasing waistlines have prompted us to put pressure on restaurants to be more transparent. While seeing energy and fat content on menus can definitely influence healthier choices, we have to wonder if this approach will give us the biggest bang for our buck. If only a quarter of our calories are coming from fast food and full service restaurants, we might see bigger improvements if we focus our research and community outreach in stores that provide the majority of our calories.

When I think about how much money I spend weekly at the super market, it makes sense that the majority of my calories come from store-bought purchases. If you are like me, you enter the grocery store with good intentions. Having a vested interest in nutrition, I typically feel empowered to make healthy choices as my shopping journey begins in the produce section. But things get off-track two steps past the veggies. By the time I even get to the bakery, I have already racked up $50 worth of merchandise that isn't even on my grocery list.

Here is a look at the top three energy-contributing foods from stores by age:
•    Children aged 6-11: grain-based desserts (4.8%), yeast breads (4.4%) and pasta dishes (3.6%)
•    Teens aged 12-19: soda, energy and sports drinks (5.3%), yeast breads (4.6%) and grain-based desserts (4.4%)
•    Adults aged 20-50: soda, energy and sports drinks (4.5%), yeast breads (4.2%) and grain-based desserts (3.9%)

While I am not a big soda drinker, I definitely get most of my calories from store-bought carbohydrates (bread, cereal and granola bars). This analysis offers a new way of looking at dietary patterns which may be important for implementing interventions and consumer education programs. Most importantly, it highlights grocery stores as an important factor in the fight against obesity. Now, we just need to find a way to make healthier options as easy to eat as store-bought carbs and motivate people to consume those foods instead.

How does your grocery cart compare?

Drewnowski A and Rehm CD. Energy intakes of US children and adults by food purchase location and by specific food source. Nutrition Journal 2013, 12: 59.


This is a nice post in an interesting line of content, great way of bring this topic to discussion. Thanks for sharing this article, keep up the excellent work !

Clinical Nutrition

This is a wonderfull post having a lot of information in it, please keep posting like this ,so that we can get knowledge, supreb work.

Posted Sep 04, 2013 2:50 PM by Dr. Corrie Whisner

Thanks Dr. Bastomski and Mary. I will do my best to add additional content that is thoughtful and intriguing in the future! If you have any specific interests, I'd love to incorporate additional posts that appeal to readers like you.