(RxWiki News) The plus side of fast food is in the name: it's fast. Grabbing a drive-thru hamburger may be cheap and easy, but too much fast food can be harmful.
People who frequently ate fast food had an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
"Make healthy food choices to help prevent diabetes and heart disease."
Fast food can be unhealthy for a variety of reasons, including high levels of calories, low levels of nutrients and larger portions.
According to Andrew Odegaard, PhD, MPH, of the University of Minnesota, and colleagues, the relationship between fast food and the risk of heart disease and diabetes has been studied mainly in Western, white populations.
As such, they set out to study the eating habits of people 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," said Dr. Odegaard.
"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," he said.
The study revealed that eating fast food - even just once a week - may increase the risk of dying from heart disease by 20 percent.
When people ate fast food two to three times per week, their risk of heart disease rose by 50 percent, compared to those who do not eat fast food. Heart disease risk rose to almost 80 percent for people who ate fast food at least four times per week.
People who at fast food at least twice each week had a 27 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
"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 Dr. Odegaard.
These types of people normally have a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes, he said.
The study's findings offer new insight into what happens when different cultures around the world start to lose their traditional diet and other lifestyle habits, said senior researcher Mark Pereira, PhD, MPH, of the University of Minnesota.
"The big picture is that this aspect of globalization [fast food] and exportation of US and Western culture might not be the best thing to spread to cultures around the world," said Dr. Pereira.
"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," he said.
For their study, the researchers looked at the results of a 16-year study that started in 1993. The study examined the eating habits of 52,000 Chinese residents of Singapore.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
The study was published in July in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association.