Fast food study puts weight on healthy options

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

A new study of Australians' fast food eating habits is raising the question: should more be done to promote so-called "healthier" fast food options, instead of trying to prevent people from eating fast food altogether?

Emily Brindal, a University of Adelaide PhD student based at CSIRO Human Nutrition, has been researching the social behaviour behind fast food consumption.

As part of the NOBLE (Nutrition Obesity Lifestyle and Environment Studies) research group, Ms Brindal studied 528 South Australians to gain a better understanding of the kinds of fast foods being consumed, how often, and under what circumstances.

"Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that eating out has increased in the last 20 years, and fast foods account for a high proportion of these meals," Ms Brindal says.

"A better understanding of people's fast food consumption is going to be important in efforts to tackle weight gain and obesity in the community."

Ms Brindal found that, on average, the people surveyed visited one of the major fast food chains – McDonald's, Hungry Jack's (Burger King), KFC, Domino's and Red Rooster – 3.4 times a month.

They consumed almost 3700 kilojoules (885 calories) per visit (or 40% of the daily kJ intake).

Almost 70% bought their fast food using a drive-thru or got takeaway. The most common activity before buying fast food (27.8% of cases) was simply being on the way somewhere, such as heading home from work or driving to the city.

In 16.9% of cases, fast food was bought while the consumer was out shopping or buying groceries.

The most common reason given for buying fast food (in 33.7% of cases) was general convenience – "I was in a hurry" or "I didn't have time to cook" were the most frequent responses.

The most visited chains, in order, were McDonald's, followed by Hungry Jack's, KFC, Domino's and Red Rooster. However, the energy intake reflected a different picture, with the kJs consumed being the highest at Hungry Jack's followed by KFC, Red Rooster, McDonald's and Domino's.

"It is clear that despite repeated messages about fatty foods and the risks associated with obesity, people will continue to eat fast foods," Ms Brindal says.

"Promoting 'healthy' fast food consumption might be the best option to adopt. This could be targeted at fast food consumers who have the most frequent weight-gain behaviour.

"The results so far paint an interesting picture of fast food consumption, but they also show us that there is still a lot to understand."


Contact Details

Ms Emily Brindal
PhD Student
CSIRO Human Nutrition
Business: +61 8 8305 0633
Mobile: +61 0433 225 395

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762