Every day, about one-quarter of American adults eat at fast-food restaurants. Cheap, tasty, and convenient, fast food is loaded with saturated fat and calories, and it's low in fiber and nutrients. Thanks in large part to fast food, half of America's adults and one-quarter of its children are obese, double the rate of a generation ago. Even some popular chicken nuggets, which many consumers consider a healthier alternative, are flavored with beef extract and contain twice as much fat, ounce for ounce, as a ham burger.

Besides the long-term health risks of a high-fat, high-calorie diet, fast-food chains have indirectly changed the way cattle are fed, slaughtered, and processed, making meatpacking the most dangerous job in America and increasing the risk of large-scale food poisoning. In his new book, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Eric Schlosser describes fast food's hidden dangers.

The United States Fast Food Industry is comprised of businesses who sell food and drinks for immediate consumption in their establishments or elsewhere. The market is currently divided into four sectors; Quick Service Restaurants, Takeouts, Mobile/Street Vendors and Leisure Locations. (DataMonitor 1) In 2004, over 50% of worldwide fast food revenue was generated in the United States. Recently the US fast food market has experienced a slower rate of growth than European and Asian markets but it still is continuing to grow. The US market reached a value of more than $50 billion in 2004, and has exceeded expectations for 2005.
The sharp rise in consumer health awareness and the staggering national obesity rate of 30% seem to be major contributors to the slow market growth of the past few years. Consumer response to unhealthy foods have prompted many industry leaders to reduce excessive portion sizes, introduce healthier menu items to their menus, and diversify corporate holdings to include the next generation of fast food,' fast casual'.(Hajim, Corey) This sector has put emphasis on healthier food, and has paid close attention to store design and atmosphere. Intended to capitalize on the lesser market of high-end, health conscious customers, this sector is small but...

According to a federal dietary survey of more than 9,000 Americans, an increase in fast food consumption yielded not only higher calorie intake among participants, but also a decrease in the concentration of vitamins and minerals in their diets.

Moreover, men and women who reported eating fast food on at least one of two survey days had higher average BMIs (a measure of body fat) compared to participants who did not eat fast food on either day.

A study published in the Lancet in 2005 also looked at the impact of fast food restaurant use. The study surveyed more than 3,000 young adults at baseline and again 15 years later. People who ate fast food more than twice a week at both survey times gained 10 pounds more over the study period than those who reported visiting these restaurants less than once a week.

These findings were echoed in another study published last year in the Journal of Adolescent Health, which reported on the fast food habits of more than 9,000 adolescents; data from this study showed a correlation between frequency of consuming fast food and greater weight gain five years later.

Tips for healthier fast food dining.

If you are a frequent fast food patron, consider limiting visits to fewer than once a week. Before you go, review the menu and nutrition information online or ask for handouts at the restaurant to help identify more healthful options.

Look for choices that provide a small portion of lean protein plus a vegetable or fruit. Also, skip the French fries and choose water or other zero-calorie drink options.

Much of the data linking weight gain and fast food use was collected roughly a decade ago. Recent years have seen the availability of more healthful options on many chain menus. Today, it is not impossible to eat at fast food restaurants and maintain a healthy weight, but you will likely have to work harder to do so.


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