Fast food restaurants can be a no-brainer when you need a quick meal as they’re generally cheap, taste great, and are ready to eat within minutes. But the food that is served at these establishments is not always nutritious.
In Canada, there are 10.3 fast food restaurants per 10,000 people, meaning that fast food restaurants have a significant presence across the country. Although this may be convenient for Canadians, it’s likely not in favour of our health. Previous research has demonstrated that fast food meals are associated with a higher caloric intake and obesity.
Although Ontario implemented the Healthy Menu Choices Act in 2017, which required restaurants to display the calories for all their food items, experts have stated that the act is based on an outdated model as well as it fails to acknowledge the actual nutritional value of the food. Thus, most people who eat at fast food restaurants are unaware of the actual nutritional quality of the food items, even if the caloric information is provided. This may be due to the lack of concrete guidelines around “healthy” fast food consumption.
If we want to create healthy food choice guidelines, we need research that captures the dietary habits of Canadians. To fill this gap, a recent study published by the Public Health Agency of Canada began to explore just this. One of the objectives of the study was to explore the associations between fast food consumption and various sociodemographic variables such as gender, body mass index (BMI), geographical location, age, and household income.
The researchers gathered data from the Foodbook dataset, which included 6,062 people living in Canada who were 18 years or older. The main question that the participants were asked was along the lines of: “How many times in the past week did you eat a meal from a fast food restaurant?”
Of the total sample, 48% had consumed fast food at least once in the past week. When looking at each of the sociodemographic variables alone and their associations with fast food consumption, the significant findings included: men consumed fast food more than women; respondents between the ages of 18 and 39 years old ate more fast food than people 40 years and above; and respondents with an annual income of less than $30,000 a year consumed less fast food than those that made $30,000 and above.
Moreover, the researchers found that being older decreased the odds of having consumed fast food in the past week, while a higher BMI was associated with increased odds of consuming fast food. For men, having an income between $30,000 and $80,000 a year compared to an annual income of $80,000 or more a year was associated with fast food consumption. For women, on the other hand, living in Quebec or Ontario compared to the Territories increased the odds of consuming fast food.
All in all, the research study demonstrated preliminary results regarding who in Canada is consuming fast food. In sum, fast food consumption seemed to vary by all sociodemographic variables: gender, BMI, geographical location, age, and household income. Although more research is needed in this area, the study was a great first step in understanding who in Canada requires healthy fast food consumption policies the most.
Ultimately, future fast food consumption research should assess the effects of eating fast food on one’s health and well-being. This could then lead to research-based healthy food choice guidelines and in turn improve the quality of Canadians’ diets and health.