Americans eat faster, and more

Data from a nationally representative survey show that in the mid-1990s, one in four U.S. residents was patronizing a fast-food restaurant on any given day. In a similar survey 5 years earlier, the figure was just one in six. The new study also found that people consumed, on average, 200 more calories on any day that they eat fast food. These facts suggest that convenience meals are contributing to the nation’s growing incidence of obesity, argue Shanthy A. Bowman and Bryan T. Vinyard of the Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Md.

The two researchers examined data collected between 1994 and 1996 from 9,872 adults over age 20. The data are part of the Agriculture Department’s periodic Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals. Participants logged all foods consumed on 2 days, together with information on where they obtained each item. Ten percent reported eating fast food on both days.

In the April Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Bowman and Vinyard report that men, African Americans, suburbanites, and affluent individuals patronized fast-food establishments—including pizza parlors—most frequently. Participants under 30 were more than four times as likely to visit a fast-food restaurant as people over 55 were. The study also found that the fast-food fare was higher in calories and lower in micronutrients than other meals and virtually devoid of milk, fruits, and juices.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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