Recipe For Obesity
MIAMI BEACH, Florida, March 8, 2003
Bulletin from the medical front: Eating fast food and sitting hours on end in front of the TV are really terrible for the waistline.
As obvious as this might sound, there actually is little firm scientific data to prove the point, especially against fast food. But now a large study released Saturday shows just how bad super-sized burgers and nonstop tube time can be for one's health.
"Fast food emphasizes primordial preferences for salt and fat," said researcher Mark Pereira. "This may promote overeating."
The project did turn up one surprise: While a lot of fast food is clearly bad for white people, it seems to make no difference at all for blacks.
The reason for this is unclear, but the researchers said the data suggest that black people's diets are often just as unhealthy at home as they are at the drive-through window. So a lot of fast food doesn't make matters any worse than they already are.
The analysis, conducted by Pereira of Boston's Children's Hospital, was based on a 15-year follow up of 2,027 whites and 1,726 blacks between ages 18 and 30 in Chicago; Minneapolis; Birmingham, Alabama; and Oakland, California. He presented the data at a meeting in Miami Beach of the American Heart Association.
The key findings:
-Whites who eat fast food twice or more a week have a 50 percent greater risk of obesity than do those who eat this way once or less.
-Their risk of abnormal glucose control, an inability to break down sugar efficiently that often foreshadows diabetes, is double.
-Whites who eat fast food more than twice a week and also spend at least 2½ hours a day watching television have triple the risk of both obesity and abnormal glucose control, compared to those who eat out once or less and watch no more than an hour and a half of TV.
"It's clearly the composition of fast food meals that we feel plays a role, with a lot of saturated fat and low quality carbohydrates, white bread and lots of soda," said Pereira. "And what you are not getting is also critical, including fiber and more healthful types of fats. It's a dietary pattern that is the opposite of what's recommended for health."
And of course, there are all those calories. A supersize fast food meal may exceed 1,600 calories, more than many people should eat in an entire day.
Many of the men and women in the study had fast food more than three times a week. Exactly what they ate didn't seem to matter much. Fries, burgers, breakfast sandwiches and nuggets all meant a greater risk of obesity.
Dr. Robert Eckel, director of clinical research at the University of Colorado, noted that the people studied are at unusually high risk of weight gain, since people pile up the most pounds between ages 25 and 34.
While the hazards of hyper-caloric meals and vegging out in front of the tube are clear, people who do these things probably have other bad habits, as well. "I suspect it relates to an overall lifestyle that is not conductive to good health," Eckel said.
Pereira said the lack of ill effect of fast food on young blacks was "very surprising." The reason may be that "blacks have a much poorer diet than whites, with less fiber and greater intake of soda," when they eat at home, "so blacks who don't eat much fast food still have a much poorer diet."
On the other hand, whites eating at home often appear to get reasonably healthy food, more like the menus recommended by the heart association and other health organizations.
In January, a federal judge in New York City threw out a class-action lawsuit blaming McDonald's food for obesity, diabetes and other health problems in children. He said this risk is common knowledge.