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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

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Study: Fast-Food More Popular Among Middle Class

Findings show that low prices, convenience, and free toys target the middle class.

A new UC Davis study shows that fast-food dining is most popular among those with middle incomes rather than those with lowest incomes.

The UC Davis study on eating out and income countered the popular notion that fast food is to blame for higher rates of obesity among the poor. According to the findings, fast-food dining becomes more common as earnings increase from low to middle incomes.

The UC Davis study followed the food consumption patterns and restaurant visits of 5,000 Americans over two days. (Wikimedia Commons)
The UC Davis study followed the food consumption patterns and restaurant visits of 5,000 Americans over two days. (Wikimedia Commons)

J. Paul Leigh, professor of public health sciences at UC Davis and senior author of the study, along with co-author DaeHwan Kim, conducted the study by using data from the 1994 to 1996 Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals and the accompanying Diet and Health Knowledge Survey.

The sample represented food consumption patterns and restaurant visits over two nonconsecutive days of 5,000 Americans. The data was then compared with demographic variables such as household income, race, gender, age and education.

Leigh and Kim found that eating at full-service restaurants, which offer sit-down service and a range of food choices, followed an expected pattern: visits increased as income rose.

However, eating at fast-food restaurants, with minimal service and cooking time, followed an unexpected pattern: visits rose along with annual household incomes of up to $60,000. Fast-food visits decreased as income increased beyond that level.

The middle-class is attracted to the fast-food industry because the restaurants are located right off freeways in middle-income areas and the products offered appeal to a large proportion of Americans, Leigh said.

"Low prices, convenience and free toys target the middle class," said Leigh, "especially budget-conscious, hurried parents -- very well."

Other findings in the study included:

  • Men were more likely than women to go to both fast-food and full-service restaurants.
  • People with more education were more likely to go to full-service restaurants.
  • People who worked more hours were more likely to go to both fast-food and full-service restaurants.
  • Smokers were more likely to go to fast-food rather than full-service restaurants.

Leigh, who is afffiliated with the UC Davis Center for Healthcare Policy and Research, suggests that policymakers and researchers look beyond restaurant type for solutions to the obesity epidemic.

While the study is limited by the fact that the data came from the mid-1990s, Leigh believes that the eating-out patterns found in this study would still hold if more up-to-date data were available.

 

RELATED:

Study: Men Just As Likely to Binge Eat

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