We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

The Middle Class, Not the Poor, Eat the Most Fast Food

By Veronique Greenwood
Dec 6, 2011 12:29 AMNov 19, 2019 9:28 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

As income rises, the frequency of fast food visits rise as well, at least until income hits $60,000 a year; sit-down restaurant visits just keep on rising. (The y axis is frequency of visits.)

Obesity rates in the United States are highest among the poor

, and high up on most lists of reasons why, you'll find the truism that fast food is cheap food, and the poor, who can't afford healthier fare, are its main consumers. A new study suggests

, however, that the people eating the most fast food are middle class, with incomes as high as $60,000 a year. Using a national database of about 5,000 people, researchers at UC Davis found that the frequency of people's visits to fast-food restaurants increased with rising household income until $60,000, when frequency started to go down (though, interestingly, people making more than $100,000 still went to fast food more than those making $20,000). Visits to sit-down restaurants, on the other hand, increased with rising income and just kept on growing. The research indicates that ascribing a fast-food habit to the poor alone ignores the rest of the population's predilections and may be a distraction from other causes of obesity in Americans of all income levels. As the scientists point out, restaurant meals in general are much higher in fat than home-cooked meals, yet people with larger incomes eat out far more frequently than the poor, while maintaining lower obesity rates. Restaurants are only part of the picture. In fact, given that a straight diet of fast food is beyond the means of many poor families

, perhaps rock-bottom cheap, high-calorie foods sold in grocery stores are more of a problem than McDonald's.

Image courtesy of Leigh and Kim and Population Health Management

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.