The Thousand Dollar Menu: Why Fast Food Isn’t Really Cheap.

Though it’s possible to shop for and consume healthy foods on a budget, it’s certainly something of a challenge. When I purchase nourishing ingredients and make my own meals, for example, the price tag is generally much higher than if I had stopped at McDonald’s for a Big Mac. Or some crispy strips at KFC. Or some Chinese food take-out.

Fast food is cheap. And when faced with budgetary constraints, it might seem like a financially sound option for individuals and families alike. But not so fast. It turns out that fast food has a secret hidden cost that can total thousands of dollars per individual per year.

The problem is that there is a clear link between fast food and obesity. Multiple studies have been done on the subject, including one from the University of Michigan that concluded:

Participants who consumed fast food two or more times a week gained approximately 10 more pounds and had twice as great increase in insulin resistance in the 15-year period than participants who consumed fast food less than once per week.

There is a clear and strong link between fast food and obesity. In a separate 2009 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the authors found that even the proximity to a fast food restaurant “significantly increased the risk of obesity.”

Since eating fast food contributes in a very real way to obesity, the financial impact of the extra weight must be taken into account. Researchers at George Washington University used a series of measures including indirect costs, lost productivity, and direct costs, such as obesity-related medical expenditures, to estimate the price tag of obesity for men and women. The results were shocking:

The authors concluded that the individual cost of being obese is $4,879 and $2,646 for women and men respectively, and adding the value of lost life to these annual costs produces even more dramatic results: $8,365 and $6,518 annually for women and men, respectively.

If eating fast food contributes to obesity (we know it does), then maybe the dollar menu isn’t so cheap after all. Fast food prices don’t reflect the secret hidden cost that you’ll undoubtedly pay through the impact on your health.

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  1. This is very true, which is why you need to be smart about what you are eating if you do go out for fast food. Make good choices and limit yourself. You shouldn’t eliminate fast food completely unless you never had it in the first place, or have special dietary needs that those places cannot cater to. Just don’t base your entire dietary plan on them.

  2. i agree; though i would like to add that while still not great for you, it depends WHAT you get too; for example, i am a vegan and if i order a veggie burrito with no cheese or sour cream, that would be healthier than someone making some meal with a bunch of meat and cheeses or such, at home

  3. Healthy eating is important, but fast food is not the culprit. The culprit is calories in > calories out. You can eat organically produced strained peas, and if you eat too many of them, you’ll become fat. The problem is we love to vilify fast food…its such an easy target.

    As to price:

    Big Mac Value meal: about $5, serves one.
    A head of broccoli, a package of brown rice, and a package of chicken breasts: about $10, serve three.

    That makes the healthy option cheaper, leaving out the cooking part. Vilifying fast food doesn’t get you to the end goal (people making wise food choices), giving them information that matters does (and maybe teaching them to cook).

  4. The majority of fast food is made up of simple carbohydrates or foods with a high glycemic index. There is a direct correlation between processed foods and diabetes, combined with a high sodium content and cholesterol makes it a less than wise choice. The largest cause of death for diabetics is heart disease or stroke. Don’t have fries with that.

  5. Eating and not being active creates obesity. The whole Fastfood Deal is really a bit ridiculous. The food is not made much differently then in a standard Restaurant. The difference is that the Fastfood Places have everything pretty much ready to take and go.

    Why does everyone think that Fast equals Fat? It all depends on how much you eat and how much you work out.
    As Bear said in a previous post its all about Calories in < Calories out.

    Before someone jumps at me. I had 220 pounds till the age of 19 and I still love my Big Mac and Chicken Nuggets, the difference is that thanks to proper excersise I can still see my abs.

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  10. Also helps if these people get off their rascals and move around a bit. Exercise + fast-food = balanced out