Fast food substantially increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, according to a University of Minnesota School of Public Health report.
Researchers have found that people who eat fast food such as burgers and French fries almost every day are 80 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes or heart disease. The discovery was made as part of a 16-year study into the eating habits of more than 52,000 Chinese residents in Singapore.
"We wanted to examine the association of Western-style fast food with cardio-metabolic risk in a Chinese population in Southeast Asia that has become a hotbed for diabetes and heart disease. What we found was a dramatic public health impact by fast food, a product that is primarily a Western import into a completely new market," said Andrew Odegaard, post-doctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota, in a statement.
Scientists say that over the past few decades Chinese residents in Singapore have changed their diets from traditional, fresh foods to Western-style fast food; this sudden change has had a major impact on their health.
Of the 52,000 participants, nearly 1,400 died of cardiac arrest and nearly 2,300 developed type 2 diabetes, researchers say. The finding is published in the journal Circulation.
"What's interesting about the results is that study participants who reported eating fast food most frequently were younger, better educated, smoked less and were more likely to be physically active," said Odegaard. "This profile is normally associated with lower cardio-metabolic risk."
The study also found that people eating fast food two or three times every week are 50 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes or heart disease.
Even eating fast food once a week was found to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by 27 percent.
The new study provides an important perspective on global health and nutrition transfer when cultures developing in different parts of the world start moving away from their traditional diet and mode of exercise.
"The big picture is that this [fast food] aspect of globalisation and exportation of US and Western culture might not be the best thing to spread around the world," said Mark Pereira, an associate professor at the University Of Minnesota School Of Public Health and one of the report's authors, in a statement.
"Global public health efforts should focus on maintaining the positive aspects of traditional cultures, while preventing the spread of outside influences thought to be harmful based on the scientific evidence."