No, Fast Food Isn't Just for 'Poor' People

A new study questions this pervasive stereotype about how often different socioeconomic classes hit the drive-thru window.
May 5, 2017, 3:00pm
Photo via Flickr user ebruli

One of the single most well-trodden tactics employed during Trump's presidential campaign was the use of fast food as a prop to show that he wasn't some elitist septuagenarian who tries to bulldoze elderly widows' homes to make room for limousine parking lots, but, instead, a misunderstood man of the people. Hell, he's just like any other average Joe who enjoys some KFC or a Big Mac—while taking his private jet for a spin.

Whether or not anyone actually bought into the ruse, the tactic is emblematic of a conviction still widely held: Fast food is, by and large, food of the poor.

The thing is, that's not even remotely true. In a recently published nationwide study that will appear in the November 2017 issue of the journal Economics and Human Biology, researchers looked into the eating habits of 8,000 randomly selected Americans and found that there is almost no correlation between Americans' income and their consumption of fast food. The study's authors found that while middle-income Americans were the most likely to regularly eat fast food, the margin between economic groups was extremely low.

In fact, after the survey participants were asked how many times in the last week they had eaten "food from a fast-food restaurant such as McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut or Taco Bell," and that data was compared with their wealth and income, researchers found that even the most wealthy person is only slightly less likely to regularly eat fast food than anyone else.

READ MORE: Black Kids See Thousands More Fast Food Ads a Year Than White Kids

Roughly 80 percent of the survey participants in the lowest 10 percent income bracket ate fast food at least once a week, compared to around 85 percent of those ranked in the middle income bracket and 75 percent in the richest 10 percent bracket.

Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at Ohio State University's Center for Human Resource Research and the co-author of the study, says, "It's not mostly poor people eating fast food in America. Rich people may have more eating options, but that's not stopping them from going to places like McDonald's or KFC."

This is by no means the first study which has disproved the myth that only those living in poverty eat fast food. A CDC study released in September of 2015 looked at the diets of children and found absolutely no correlation between a person's level of poverty and their fast-food intake. In fact, a Gallup poll from 2013 found that adults earning more than $75,000 a year actually ate more fast food than those of lower incomes and that those who earned less than $25,000 are some of the least likely consumers of fast food.

Turns out, pretty much all of America is crazy about cheap chicken nuggets and bean burritos. Who would have thought?