Is Fast Food Today Healthier Than in the Past?

Joel Eisenberg
Burger KingiStock

Author’s Note

The author of this article offers no medical advice as to the nutritional value or lack thereof of modern-day fast food, inclusive of plant-based options. Seeking a doctor’s opinion regarding any questions of this nature is highly recommended. In the interests of clarity, information and excerpts for this article are fully-attributed to several media outlets and company websites, including Wikipedia, ASCO Post, Buzzfeed,, Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and

Direct links to all listed and attributed sources are included below.


Eric Schlosser’s 2001 non-fiction bestseller, “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal,” was a muckraking tome first serialized by Rolling Stone Magazine in 1999 and subsequently adapted into a 2006 film of the same name. See here for Wikipedia entry, which elucidates the book’s origin: Rolling Stone asked Schlosser to write an article looking at America through fast food in 1997 after reading his article on migrants in Atlantic Monthly. He then spent nearly three years researching the fast-food industry, from the slaughterhouses and packing plants that turn out the burgers to the minimum-wage workers who cook them to the television commercials that entice children to eat them with the lure of cheap toys and colorful playgrounds. The experience enraged and appalled him.

From 2018’s “Fast Food Nation and America’s Sick Diet” on, one year removed from vegan options offered in many fast food outlets: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about two-thirds of Americans are overweight and one-third of those are morbidly obese. The National Cancer Institute (NCI)’s website has a section called Obesity and Cancer, which lists 13 cancers that are associated with obesity, based on data from large cohort and observational studies. The most common causes of obesity are overeating and being physically inactive. What we consume also plays a significant role in weight gain, such as engineered “hyperpalatable,” so-called fast food, which is laden with salt, sugar, fat, and myriad chemical compounds.

The article goes on to explain not much had changed since the release of Schlosser’s book 17 years prior.

By 2019, various fast food chains such as KFC, Del Taco, Burger King, White Castle, Carl’s Jr., and others began testing vegan products for their restaurants. All carry vegan options today.

See current January of 2022 Buzzfeed article, “Here’s Everything Vegans Can Order at Fast Food Restaurants in 2022,” for a comprehensive list of those allegedly healthier fast food options.

Modern-Day Fast Food Health Auspices published a current overview on the state of fast food today. See “19 US FAST FOOD INDUSTRY STATISTICS [2022]: REVENUE, TRENDS, AND PREDICTIONS,” which states: On any given day in America, it’s estimated that 36.6% or 84.4 million adults consume some kind of fast food.

An issue in that measure becomes of the group of 84.4 million adults above, how many of them who regularly visit fast food restaurants are choosing the allegedly healthier options as opposed to the junk variety that has been consumed and popularized for decades? As said healthier options are still only recently available in many of the more popular chains, studies have so far been inconclusive.

That same question applies to children to eat fast food.

Experts agree more time needs to pass before either of those determinations are made.


My recent NewsBreak article, “The Plant-Based Food Industry: Economists, Vegans, Doctors and Nutritionists Debate Man’s Need For Animal Meat,” in part discussed the recent availability of vegan meat products in large fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr. and others. Largely offered as healthier options, some of the options nonetheless are highly-processed and consisting of sodium levels that are frequently higher than its animal-derived meat counterpart.

At the same time, following the release of Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” and the subsequent film adaptation, beleaguered fast food chain restaurants in some instances changed oils to those with less saturated fats and otherwise adapted to healthier methods of preparation. Still, fast food is still what its name implies — quickly prepared — and nutrition has not been a priority.

The fast food industry as a whole may never specifically offer solely healthy menu items as they will likely lose their customer base, though some newly franchisable vegan outlets are attempting to change that paradigm. Until then, the U.S. largely remains in favor of its perennial favorites, though newcomers such as Culver City, California’s new Flower Burger restaurant, for example, are willing to challenge the status quo. See their website here.
Flower Burger “Vegan Power”

To conclude, though today’s fast food is considered marginally healthier than that of previous generations, convenience still costs in terms of ingredients, calories, and the forfeiture of overall health.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA

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