Global Food, Health, and Society

A Colby Community Website for ST297, Fall 2018

America’s Fast Food Obsession

Fast food is a presence in almost everybody’s life on a daily basis. Over a quarter of American adults eat fast food daily(1)

 

There are many factors that contribute to America’s obsession with fast food. Fast food is extremely easy to obtain, in most cases you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your car to enjoy a meal. Secondly, fast food is very cheap, a Big Mac meal from McDonald’s costs only $5.99 and includes a burger, fries and a drink (2). Finally, getting a meal from a fast food restaurant is quick, in most cases your food will be prepared and served in well under 10 minutes. These factors are the main contributors to fast food’s popularity in the United States and due to all of these factors, fast food in America has been on a steady increase for years and will not slow down anytime soon.

 

One of the main reasons for fast food’s popularity is the convenience factor. Instead of having to spend time in your kitchen and at a grocery store preparing a meal you can spend mere minutes at a fast food restaurant and get a full meal. McDonald’s is the most popular fast food restaurant, with over 37,000 locations (3) it completely dwarfs all other fast food restaurants in number of locations. The way in which McDonald’s serves their food is one important factor in its convenience. With most meals at McDonald’s you don’t need any kind of cutlery to eat your meal, just your hands will do. This means that their meals can be eaten anywhere at any time. Because of this, over 20% of American meals are eaten in cars (4), a concept that didn’t exist before fast food. For many people time is a major factor in their decision on where and what to eat. For example, many college students find it hard to find time in their day to cook or go out and sit down for a healthy meal. Due to this it has been reported that 23% of college students eat fast food daily and 50% of students reported eating at least 3 fast food meals per week (5). Because of its convenience, fast food has a firm grip over a large part of the American food economy. It is viewed as quick and easy by many people and many people find those qualities attractive in their food. Fast food plays into this narrative and advertises it heavily in order to retain this portion of the market and therefore maintain its overwhelming presence in American society.

One of the biggest contributing factors to fast food’s vast presence in America is its low cost. The typical american spends $1200 annually on fast food (6). With fast food meals being so cheap, this means that a person can stretch their dollar much further going to a fast food restaurant rather than preparing their own food or going out to eat at a traditional sit-down restaurant. Many people perceive fast food as the least expensive dining option available and therefore are drawn to it. The vast majority of fast food ads include their prices so people are ensured to know that the food not only looks appetizing but also won’t hurt their bank account. In a survey, 32% percent of people stated that they ate fast food because it is cheap (7). Due to this perception, Americans spend over $50 Billion annually on fast food (8). This staggeringly large number perfectly exemplifies the magnitude of the obsession that Americans have with fast food. When people know that they can get a full meal for well under $10, they are going to often take that option. Fast food companies have recognized this and tailored their marketing and pricing strategies to fit that mindset. Fast food and low prices go hand in and hand and that is one of the major factors of why Americans choose to eat fast food so often.

The final reason why fast food is so popular in America is because the time between placing your order and receiving your food is very short. The reason behind why fast food companies are able to churn out orders so quickly is because almost everything in the fast food process has become mechanized. Almost everything on the menu was mass produced in a factory somewhere and then frozen and shipped out to the thousands of nearby storefront. This cuts down almost all the prep time that the “cooks” need so that your order will be prepared in mere minutes. Many people who feel that they don’t have the time to get any other kind of meal will turn to fast food despite its negative health effects. A study of college students showed that 46% of fast food meals eaten were at lunch time (9). This statistic is important because lunch is a time in the middle of the day where people don’t have a lot of time. The fact that many college students elected to eat fast food for lunch shows that they believe fast food is the quickest, and therefore best, option for their mid-day meal.

 

Citations (Ordered By Occurrence in Post):

  1. Staff, CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com. “Americans Are Obsessed with Fast Food: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 31 Jan. 2002, www.cbsnews.com/news/americans-are-obsessed-with-fast-food-the-dark-side-of-the-all-american-meal/.
  2. Fast Food Prices. “McDonalds Prices.” Fast Food Menu Prices, www.fastfoodmenuprices.com/mcdonalds-prices/.
  3. University Hospitals/North Ohio Heart/Ohio Medical Group. “Fast Food Statistics Infographic.” North Ohio Heart, www.partnersforyourhealth.com/fast-food-statistics.
  4. CBS News
  5. Abraham, Sam, et al. “College Student’s Perception of Risk Factors Related to Fast Food Consumption and Their Eating Habits.” J Nutritional Human Health 2018 , vol. 2, no. 1, 18 Jan. 2018.
  6. Lake, Rebecca. “Fast Food Statistics: 23 Shocking Facts and Habits.” CreditDonkey, www.creditdonkey.com/fast-food-statistics.html#fast.
  7. “Fast Food Survey: Most Customers Choose Fast Food for Convenience.” AYTM, aytm.com/blog/fast-food-survey-2/.
  8. University Hospitals/North Ohio Heart/Ohio Medical Group
  9. Haines, Caitlyn, et al. “Fast-Food Consumption among College Students and Their Attitudes toward Healthier Fast-Food Options.” The FASEB Journal, 1 Apr. 2010, www.fasebj.org/doi/abs/10.1096/fasebj.24.1_supplement.940.4.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Spencer, this is a very well-written article. I can relate to the convenience factor of the fast-food market in America. It is very easy to see how obesity is a rising problem as fast food restaurants offer a very appealing business for the average American. In your opinion, what is the best way for fast-food restaurants to provide healthy meals to improve the health of the average American? Do fast food restaurants such as McDonalds have an obligation to serve healthy food when they hold most of the power in the food market in America? I enjoyed reading your blog post!

  2. I really enjoyed reading this blog post and found the analysis of the fast food industry to be very interesting. I also really enjoyed the graphics you provided and think that it contributed to the overall quality of the blog post!
    This post made me think about how the fast food industry has varying affects in people’s lives and truly has increased in popularity. Overall very interesting and effective in portraying your ideas. Thanks!

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