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Rich Kids Eat Tons of Fast Food, Too

New data shows that kids from well-to-do backgrounds eat just as many crappy tacos and cheap burgers as those from low-income families.
Photo via Flickr user tacosporvida

This great nation of ours was built on fast food. Our highways and byways were paved and paid for, and by, burgers and buns. Even our schools eagerly partner with pizza and sandwich chains. So it only makes sense that in the land that spawned the Potacho, even the most princely plutocrat would appreciate the salty subtleties of getting one's "Animal-Style" on.

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And that is, in fact, exactly what new research shows: rich kids eat as much fast food as poor kids do.

But that new information is a bit confounding: We've known for a long time that children from low-income families are more likely to be obese than those from affluent backgrounds.

So what gives?

No one is sure, but that sigh you just heard is from McDonald's headquarters, where one problem is now off their plates: the class differential in obesity.

Researchers are now saying that new data—obtained from a recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control—shows that the rich and the poor eat fast food in pretty much equal amounts. Guys, this is so totally like Les Misérables!

The data was collected from a pool of over 5,000 participants. It shows that children from low-income households with earnings less than $31,500 a year ate almost exactly the same amount of fast food as those from wealthier backgrounds.

These findings are contrast with the widespread belief that "food deserts" negatively impact the health of low-income families. The theory proposes that poor people are more likely to be obese because the neighborhoods they live in offer slim pickings beyond fast-food restaurants and supermarkets packed with processed food.

How to explain these unexpected results? Well, the CDC researchers apparently only asked respondents what they ate on the day before the survey was taken. As Mary Story, a professor at the Duke Global Health Institute who wasn't involved in the research, pointed out to The Detroit News, "With just a one-day snapshot, it's hard to really make many inferences with that."


Some speculate that kids from poor households get less nutritious meals at home. We certainly know that low-income kids get less exercise because their streets are less safe, their outdoor parks are less appealing, and their schools have inferior facilities. And stress and other aspects of growing up in poverty may make kids susceptible to packing on weight.

In any event, the CDC survey does show one thing for sure: too many kids in all income brackets are eating too much fast food. About a third of kids who were ages two to 19 ate fast food on the day before the survey was conducted. That's quite the load of not-so-happy Happy Meals.

We can now think of fast food as the great equalizer: wealthy kids got 13 percent of their previous day's calories from fast food, and poor kids got 11.5 percent. Overweight and obese kids did not, in fact, eat more of their calories from fast food than normal-weight children.

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The report found that all children eat the caloric equivalent of a small hamburger—such as the kind found in a McDonald's Happy Meal—every single day, Kristi King, a senior clinical dietitian with Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, who wasn't involved in the new study, told USA Today.

So where does this leave us, rich and poor, young and old, skinny and fat?

"We know that childhood obesity is a problem everywhere and that fast food does contribute to that. But we also know that it is a worse problem in low-income communities," says Yael Lehmann, executive director of the Food Trust, a nonprofit that promotes access to healthy food. "In a way it just opens up more questions for us."

We are certainly a fast-food nation. Time to wallow in the title.