Eating fast food is frequently blamed for damaging our health. It is not the healthiest type of meal since it is typically high in fat and salt. Because of this some government officials have considered regulating parts of the fast food industry to improve public health and reduce health inequalities across society.
Regulating fast food locations to improve health among low income Americans rests partly on a key assumption: that fast food is primarily eaten by poor people, who cannot afford nutritious but more expensive food. Mark Bittman in the New York Times, summed it up nicely: “The ‘fact’ that junk food is cheaper than real food has become a reflexive part of how we explain why so many Americans are overweight, particularly those with lower incomes.”
Our recently published research examined this assumption by looking at who eats fast food using a large nationwide random sample. What we found surprised us. The poor don’t eat the most fast food. Instead, the middle class do. Moreover, the difference between the proportion of rich people and poor people who eat fast food was quite small. It seems when you ask people if they ate at a fast food restaurant like McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken or Taco Bell last week, the majority of rich, poor and middle class said “yes.” Continue reading