WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A comparison of data on fast-food consumption and rising obesity has found a surprising wrinkle: There doesn't appear to be much of a link, at least in terms of large populations.
James Binkley, associate professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, used state-by-state data to examine one bit of dogma in the war on weight -- that the nation's increasing fast food consumption is partly to blame for the widespread rise in adult obesity. He found that "states that have a lot of fast-food sales aren't the states that the Centers for Disease Control say have weight problems."
Binkley presented his findings at the annual meeting of the Western Agricultural Economics Association July 16 in Reno, Nev. The research was funded by Purdue.
"One conclusion that I would derive from this data is that changing exercise habits could be more to blame than diet," Binkley says. "It may be couch potatoes, not french fries, that are the heart of the problem."
There is little doubt that obesity is a burgeoning problem in the United States. Between 1960 and 1991, the number of adults who were overweight increased from 25 percent to 33 percent, according to the U.S. government's 1995 "Third Report on Nutrition Monitoring in the United States, Volume I."
Binkley compared data from the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) Behavioral Risk Factor Surveys with the 1992 Census of Retail Trade using data for states and regions. This data was compared with the prevalence of fast-food restaurants in these states and regions.
The general assumption in media reports and among some nutritionists is that fast food leads to obesity, Binkley says. That is what Binkley expected to find when he compared the data. "It wouldn't have surprised me to find that there isn't any relationship at all at this level," he says. "But what we found was a slightly negative association. There certainly wasn't a positive relationship."