Poor diet is a major factor in many serious health issues, with fast food often cited as one of the leading causes of liver disease. So while fast food is convenient and inexpensive and also tastes good—is it worth the risks?
A new study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology used the data from the nation’s largest annual nutritional survey, the 2017–18 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, to help determine the effect of fast-food consumption on liver steatosis, which is an accumulation of fat in tissues.
Fast food was categorized as meals from drive-through restaurants or restaurants without wait staff. Pizza was also included in the study.
Approximately 4,000 adults’ fatty liver measurements were included in the study, which were then compared to their fast-food consumption. Of those surveyed, 52 percent consumed some fast food. Of those participants, 29 percent consumed one-fifth or more daily calories from fast food, and 29 percent of survey subjects experienced a rise in liver fat levels.
The relationship between eating fast food and liver steatosis held true even after adjusting for factors such as age, sex, ethnicity, race, physical activity, and alcohol use.
“Our findings are particularly alarming as fast-food consumption has gone up in the last 50 years, regardless of socioeconomic status,” said Dr. Ani Kardashian, lead author of the study.
“We’ve also seen a substantial surge in fast-food dining during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is probably related to the decline in full-service restaurant dining and rising rates of food insecurity. We worry that the number of those with fatty livers has gone up even more since the time of the survey.”
Researchers hope that this study will encourage health care professionals to offer their patients with diabetes or obesity more nutrition education. Patients who are at a higher risk of developing liver disease need more information to make informed dietary choices.