Study adds diabetes to list of known fast-food side effects

The British study, which began in 1985, was released this month.

Naomi Scott

Although he has read “Fast Food Nation,” seen “Super Size Me” and once successfully swore off fast food for three weeks, first-year University student Adam Anderson can’t let go of his unhealthy eating habits, he said.

Anderson and first-year business student Kyle McKay chowed down on greasy burgers and french fries Monday at Arby’s in Stadium Village. The friends said they eat fast food an estimated seven times a week.

These avid consumers of fast food are a population Mark Pereira said he is concerned about.

Pereira, a University professor of epidemiology, co-authored a study that showed eating fast food more than twice a week caused healthy young people to gain an average of 10 extra pounds during 15 years. The indulgers also increased their risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

The 10 pounds were in addition to weight gain that is normal as people age, according to the report.

The study, published this month in The Lancet, a British journal, is the first to look at how fast-food intake relates to diabetes, Pereira said.

“On one hand, it’s a no-brainer,” Pereira said.

But he and Kerri Boutelle, University STAR Center for Eating Disorders and Weight Management director, said even people who eat fast food two or three times a week could see their health deteriorate.

“It’s remarkable, because these people were only eating it two times a week, and they gained (10 pounds) over 15 years,” Boutelle said.

The study began in 1985, when researchers started to track eating habits and overall health of more than 3,000 healthy young adults in four cities around the United States, including Minneapolis.

Although there has been a recent push to put healthier items such as salads on fast-food menus, Pereira said, when participants did eat fast food, “the foods they ordered were shockingly high in trans fat.” The foods were also low in fiber and other healthy nutrients.

University epidemiology professor David Jacobs, another author of the study, said approximately 150 of the participants, who are now between ages 33 and 45, developed diabetes. Some also suffer from hypertension, he said.

Pereira said he thinks government and public health officials across the country need to be “more aggressive” and make clear recommendations to the public about safe fast-food eating habits. Other countries do not advertise to children by marketing toys with meals for young people as the U.S. fast-food industry does, he said.

Because they are students, Anderson and McKay said, they are unlikely to change their eating patterns.

Anderson said he eats fast food because he has a busy schedule, and McKay said he eats out because he finds dorm food unappealing.