Americans love fast food. (We spent $165 billion on it in 2010.) But we don't all love it equally. Like the obesity rate, fast-food consumption varies widely by region. Residents of some states disproportionately choose fast food over other options when they go out to eat, with consequences for the state’s collective health.
Using government data on the percentage of restaurants in each state that serve fast food and the percentage of dining-out dollars the average resident spends in them each year, Health.com identified the 10 states where fast-food consumption is most prevalent. Here they are, in alphabetical order.
Fast-food restaurants account for just 44 percent of Alabama eateries (that’s the fifth-lowest rate in the United States), but residents still manage to spend close to 60 percent of their annual dining-out budget on quick-and-easy meals. In a state where more than two-thirds of people are overweight, 80 percent of adults don’t eat enough fruits and veggies, and rates of heart disease and diabetes are sky high, that’s not good news.
“Fast food” doesn’t mean only big chains with drive-thrus. The government agencies that collect data on restaurants consider any place without table service to be in the fast-food category, whether it’s a McDonald’s, a sub shop or a takeout BBQ joint — like George’s "Old Town" Bar-B-Que in Brewton, Ala.
Colonel Sanders was clearly on to something when he began selling takeout fried-chicken dinners to busy families during the Depression. Decades later, Kentuckians now spend 56 cents of every restaurant dollar on KFC and other fast food.
In fact, KFC's parent company, Yum Brands, which is based in Louisville and also owns Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, has begun lobbying Kentucky's governor to allow food stamps from certain residents to be accepted at fast-food places. Kentucky, which has the country's second-highest obesity rate, would be just the fourth state to approve the practice.
The Popeyes restaurant chain, which was founded near New Orleans in 1972 and prides itself on its fried chicken, biscuits, and red beans and rice, recently launched a new branding campaign to play up its Louisiana heritage — and its besting of KFC in a nationwide taste test.
They may disagree on whose chicken is best, but Louisiana residents certainly share Kentuckians' love of fast food. They spend nearly as much money on fast food (54 percent of their restaurant budget), and, just like the Bluegrass State, their rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes rank among the top five in the country.
Of all the states on our list, Maryland — home of the Roy Rogers burger chain — has the lowest proportion of fast-food restaurants (40 percent). But that doesn't prevent residents from spending nearly half of their dining-out dollars in them.
And fast-food establishments are still too plentiful for some. The abundance of fast food in Prince Georges County, a densely populated area bordering Washington, D.C., prompted a state senator to propose a countywide moratorium on new restaurants in 2010. "Our county is inundated with unhealthy food choices," a supporter of the bill told the Washington Post. "In some areas, if someone wants a healthy choice, there are no options."
Residents spend a whopping 62 percent of their dining-out budget on fast food — the highest rate in the country. It may not be a coincidence that Mississippi also boasts the highest percentage of overweight (70 percent) and obese (33 percent) adults.
In some areas, such as the Delta region, food deserts that feature a bevy of fast-food options and a lack of fresh, healthful alternatives may be part of the problem. "You can find fried chicken and fried fish and fried potato logs and fried pies at convenience stores in just about any little town," an NPR correspondent (and native Southerner) reported recently from rural Holmes County, the poorest and most obese county in the state.
Continue reading: 10 States That Consume Too Much Fast Food
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