Science News

Fast Food Makes You Fat - it's Official

Sun, 26th Oct 2003

Part of the show What are Ghosts and Poltergeists

The Medical Research council has released a study concluding what many of us have probably suspected already: regularly eating junk food can increase your risk of weight gain and obesity. It’s all about the energy density of the meal, apparently. Junk food has a high energy density, meaning that it contains a lot of calories for its weight. This is often due to the presence of high levels of fat and sugar in the meal, with a corresponding low level of fibre and protein. For example, a fast food meal has an energy density one and a half times greater than that of a normal British meal, and a staggering two and a half times greater than an African meal. When people eat foods with a high energy density, they may not realise exactly how many calories they are eating, as the body is tricked by the relatively small size of the portions. This also makes it hard for people to make informed diet choices, especially in the case of children. The MRC team tested this by asking groups of volunteers to eat apparently identical meals. But the meals had been secretly altered to have a variety of energy densities, although the volunteers believed they were all eating normally. The scientists found that the group fed the high energy density diet put on fat at an alarming rate, while those eating the low energy density foods actually lost body fat. More research on people living in the UK and in Africa, as well as analysis of the composition of junk food, confirmed that fast food meals are a fast track to lardiness. But it’s not just junk food that is energy dense- the researchers warn about the perils of energy-dense supermarket readymeals and convenience foods, saying it’s important not to just swap one unhealthy meal with another. Obesity related problems are thought to cost the UK more than 2.5 billion pounds annually so the government are very keen to find ways to stop us eating all the pies. This new research lays some of the blame firmly at the door of the fast food merchants, so perhaps we will finally see health warnings on the sides of burger cartons.


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