Background: Fast-food consumption has increased greatly in the USA during the past three decades. However, the effect of fast food on risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes has received little attention. We aimed to investigate the association between reported fast-food habits and changes in bodyweight and insulin resistance over a 15-year period in the USA.
Methods: Participants for the CARDIA study included 3031 young (age 18-30 years in 1985-86) black and white adults who were followed up with repeated dietary assessment. We used multiple linear regression models to investigate the association of frequency of fast-food restaurant visits (fast-food frequency) at baseline and follow-up with 15-year changes in bodyweight and the homoeostasis model (HOMA) for insulin resistance.
Findings: Fast-food frequency was lowest for white women (about 1.3 times per week) compared with the other ethnic-sex groups (about twice a week). After adjustment for lifestyle factors, baseline fast-food frequency was directly associated with changes in bodyweight in both black (p=0.0050) and white people (p=0.0013). Change in fast-food frequency over 15 years was directly associated with changes in bodyweight in white individuals (p<0.0001), with a weaker association recorded in black people (p=0.1004). Changes were also directly associated with insulin resistance in both ethnic groups (p=0.0015 in black people, p<0.0001 in white people). By comparison with the average 15-year weight gain in participants with infrequent (less than once a week) fast-food restaurant use at baseline and follow-up (n=203), those with frequent (more than twice a week) visits to fast-food restaurants at baseline and follow-up (n=87) gained an extra 4.5 kg of bodyweight (p=0.0054) and had a two-fold greater increase in insulin resistance (p=0.0083).
Interpretation: Fast-food consumption has strong positive associations with weight gain and insulin resistance, suggesting that fast food increases the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.