Eating fast food is frequently blamed for damaging our health.
As nutrition experts point out, it is not the healthiest type of meal since it is typically high in fat and salt. More widely, it's seen as a key factor in the growing obesity epidemic in the U.S. and throughout the world.
Because it's considered relatively inexpensive, there's an assumption that poor people eat more fast food than other socioeconomic groups – which has convinced some local governments to try to limit their access. Food journalist Mark Bittman sums up the sentiment succinctly:
"The 'fact' that junk food is cheaper than real food has become a reflexive part of how we explain why so many Americans are overweight, particularly those with lower incomes."
Our recently published research examined this assumption by looking at who eats fast food using a large sample of random Americans. What we found surprised us: Poor people were actually less likely to eat fast food – and do so less frequently – than those in the middle class, and only a little more likely than the rich.
In other words, the guilty pleasure of enjoying a McDonald's hamburger, Kentucky Fried Chicken popcorn nuggets or Taco Bell burrito is shared across the income spectrum, from rich to poor, with an overwhelming majority of every group reporting having indulged at least once over a nonconsecutive three-week period.