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Fast Food + TV = Unhealthy Combination

Combo Raises Obesity, Diabetes Risks, Especially Among Whites

WebMD Health News

March 10, 2003 -- Picking up a burger and fries to eat while watching the big game or a favorite TV show may be a hazardous habit for many Americans. A new study shows eating fast food along with a steady diet of watching television can prove to be a lethal combination, increasing the risks for both obesity and diabetes.

Researchers say fast food consumption has grown dramatically in recent years, but the link between eating fast food and the prevalence of obesity and other factors related to diabetes risk has not been thoroughly examined.

The study found that eating fast food more than twice a week doubled the risk for glucose intolerance and produced a 50% increase in obesity.

Glucose intolerance occurs when the body can no longer efficiently convert sugar into energy. Both obesity and glucose intolerance are major risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

In the study, researchers followed 2,027 white and 1,726 black adults for 15 years and interviewed them about their dining and lifestyle habits as well as evaluated their physical health. The participants were considered obese if their body mass index (BMI, a measurement of weight relative to height) was 30 or higher or if their waistline was more than 39 inches for men or 35 inches for women.

They found that the eating fast food and watching TV acted independently to increase the risk of obesity and glucose intolerance, but two factors proved to be an especially dangerous combination among whites specifically.

Whites who visited fast food restaurants more than twice a week and watched more than three hours of television per week were three times as likely to have abnormal glucose control compared to those who ate fast food less than once a week or watched less than an hour of television per week.

After adjusting for other factors associated with health risk, such as social and economic status, smoking, alcohol use, and physical activity, researchers found this link between fast food consumption and obesity and glucose intolerance was still significant in whites but not in blacks.

Although the study found blacks ate fast food blacks more often than whites (an average of twice a week vs. 1.6 times per week for whites), researchers say the lack of an association may be due to other dietary habits found among blacks that were not assessed in the study, and these factors need to be examined in future studies.

Researchers say that frequent dining on fast food may have an overall negative effect on the quality of a person's diet, therefore increasing the risk of obesity and other health problems.

"When you eat fast foods, you eat fewer fresh fruits and vegetables, fewer whole grains, and fewer reduced-fat dairy products and fiber," says researcher Mark Pereira, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, in a news release. "The actual meal didn't seem to matter -- hamburgers, fries, breakfast sandwiches, chicken sandwiches and nuggets -- they were all associated with an increased risk."

Periera presented the results of the study recently at the American Heart Association's 43rd Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention, in Miami, Fla.

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