Weight… too much of it… affects nearly 70% of adults and 15% of children in the United States. At the same time, obesity rates continue to climb causing an epidemic which, according to a recent study actually threatens the world food supply. While there are many explanations for this phenomenon, a big one may be fast food consumption. Over the years the number of people eating fast food has increased as have the size of portions, and excessive weight gain and insulin resistance may be the result. In addition, research shows eating fast food may actually damage the part of the brain which helps control appetite.
Fast food contributes to weight gain
The consumption of fast food has increased as more and more people choose to eat out rather than at home. Given the high amounts of fat, sugar and salt found in many of these foods, it’s not surprising that studies show people who eat more of them are heavier and less healthy than those who don’t. Without major changes in the way we eat, these trends will most likely continue. For example, the Bastyr Center for Natural Health reports that fast food makes up more than 10% of children’s food intake, and related to that, the proportion of overweight kids has increased 50% over the last 10 years.
Is there a connection between weight gain and fast food consumption? A 2005 study, which appeared in the journal, The Lancet, looked at the connection between fast food consumption, weight gain and insulin resistance in the United States. Over a 15 year period, researchers conducted regular dietary assessments on a group of 3000+ black and white men and women between the ages of 18 and 30. After adjusting for lifestyle factors, results showed that increases in weight were directly related to the frequency of eating fast food. In fact, those who ate fast food more than twice a week compared to those who did so less than once a week gained on average an extra 10 pounds.
Fast food promotes insulin resistance
This same study also looked at insulin resistance as it relates to fast food consumption. The results showed that the frequent fast food eaters had an increase in insulin resistance which was twice that of those who visited fast food places less often. Since insulin resistance frequently leads to type 2 diabetes, which is in turn a risk factor for heart disease, this is a serious finding.
Fast food damages the brain’s ability to regulate weight
Could a fast food diet actually damage your brain? A recent study conducted at the University of Washington seems to support this idea. Researchers fed rats with a diet that had a fat content similar to a typical American diet. Within three days these rats doubled their usual calorie intake and continued to gain weight throughout the study.
However, not only did the diet make them fat, but they also developed inflammation in the hypothalmus, the part of the brain which controls body weight. In addition, the rats’ brains showed evidence of gliosis, an accumulation of cells in their brains which were in response to the inflammation. Gliosis reflects brain healing and is seen in cases of stroke and MS.
Damage was also seen in neurons critical to the regulation of weight. By the eighth month of the study, the scientists were able to confirm actual loss of these critical neurons; something they did not see on examining the brains of the control rats which ate standard food.