What's the biggest reason Americans eat at fast-food restaurants? It's fast, said 44 percent of those surveyed. Only 6 percent said it was because they liked the food.
It's fast, but is it good for us? A majority (54 percent) said that fast food isn't particularly healthful. Even half of those who said they eat fast food at least once a day said fast food isn't good for them.
Acknowledging that, how often do people eat fast food? About half (48 percent) of those interviewed said they eat at a fast-food restaurant at least once a week -- and only 8 percent said they've never eaten at a fast-food restaurant.
Any regrets? Many respondents (38 percent among those questioned) said they try to do better the next time, after having fast food, by eating something healthier for their next meal. The majority, however, said they don't bother.
America is enjoying one Whopper of a Big Mac Attack, according to a national survey by The Washington Post.
The poll shows that Americans don't expect fancy food under the Golden Arches or beneath the Taco Bell. Nor do we expect particularly healthful food. Cheap, fast and filling; that's the recipe for the food that many Americans love to hate -- and eat anyway.
Who eats fast food?
Nearly half -- 48 percent -- of those interviewed said they eat fast food at least once a week. Four percent say they eat it once a day, which translates into roughly eight million fast food aficionados.
Younger people are far more likely than older people to eat fast food. Nearly six out of 10 respondents between 18 and 34 years of age say they eat fast food at least once a week, compared to just one out of four persons 65 years old or older.
Middle-income Americans are more likely to eat fast food than are the very poor or the relatively affluent. Only about a third of those with household incomes under $15,000 a year say they eat fast food at least once a week, compared to six out of 10 in families with incomes between $25,000 and $50,000.
There's a fast food gender gap; men eat fast food somewhat more often than women. And men are far less likely to doubt the nutritional benefits of fast food than are women.
The survey even found that Republicans are more likely than Democrats to eat fast food; 51 percent of all Republicans but 43 percent of all Democrats eat at fast food restaurants at least once a week, according to the poll.
To measure attitudes toward fast food, the Post interviewed 1,002 randomly selected adults nationwide June 8-12. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus three percentage points.
Why do Americans eat at fast food restaurants? Because it's fast, says a 44-percent plurality of those interviewed. Six percent say they eat at fast food restaurants mainly because they like the food, the same percentage who eat there primarily because it is a "good place to eat if you have children."
Nutrition? Thank you, but not while I'm eating fast food. Fewer than 1 percent say the biggest reason they eat fast food is because it is nutritious.
While for many Americans a trip to the neighborhood fast food restaurant has become the routine, for others it is a special occasion. The second most frequently cited reason for eating at fast food restaurants is that they are "something different, a break from the routine."
That is particularly true of less affluent and older respondents. Nearly four out of 10 persons with household incomes under $15,000 a year say the major reason they eat at a fast food restaurant is because it provides a welcomed break from the routine. In contrast, only about one out of 10 persons with household incomes greater than $40,000 a year goes to fast food restaurants primarily for this reason.
Similarly, a third of all persons 65 and older says the primary reason they go to a fast food restaurant is because it is something different, compared to one out of five respondents under the age of 35.
Whether they eat fast food often or eat it infrequently, many Americans appear to feel a bit guilty about eating so much of it. More than half -- 54 percent -- of those interviewed acknowledge that fast food is "not too good" or "not good at all" for you.
Remarkably, this view varies little between frequent and occasional fast food eaters. Among those who eat at fast food restaurants at least several times a week, 51 percent say it isn't too good for you. Among those who go just once a month or less often, 53 percent say it isn't too good for you. (Among those who never eat it, eight out of 10 say fast food is not healthful.)
Many Americans say they have cut down on certain fast food delicacies because of concerns about health. In fact, nearly half -- 47 percent, including those who most frequently eat at fast food restaurants -- say they have stopped ordering or cut back on certain items because of concerns about nutrition.
That view is most frequently expressed by middle-aged respondents, wealthier people and women: 50 percent of all women compared to 44 percent of all men report they have changed their fast food eating habits because of concerns about nutrition.
About four in 10 respondents say they try to eat something healthier after a meal at a fast food restaurant -- a view expressed by far more women than men. In fact, about half of all women questioned say they usually try to eat something "lower in fat, salt, cholesterol or calories" for their "next meal," compared to fewer than a third of all men.
Older people, too, are more likely to say they try to eat healthier after dining in a fast food restaurant. The most frequent fast food eaters are, however, the least likely to do so. Only a third of those who eat fast food at least several times a week say they try to make sure their next meal is healthier. In contrast, about half of those who only eat fast food once a month or less say they attempt to eat better the next meal.
But the Post survey did find that most people agree that fast food restaurants are serving more healthful food now than they did just a few years ago. Nearly 60 percent of respondents say that fast food restaurants "have started serving more healthful and nutritious food" in the past few years, a view more frequently expressed by women than by men.
Nearly three out of four respondents also say fast food restaurants should be required to provide nutrition information on the wrappers or containers of the food they sell. But the survey results suggest that most Americans would look the other way even if such information were widely available.
Currently, McDonald's will provide nutritional information to those customers who request it. Of those who have eaten at McDonald's, 94 percent acknowledge they have never asked for the brochure -- including more than nine out of 10 people who support nutrition labels on fast food.
Numbers may not add to 100 percent due to rounding. Figures are based on a Washington Post telephone survey of 1,002 randomly selected adults nationwide conducted June 8-12. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points. Sampling error is, however, only one of many potential sources of error in this or any other public opinion survey. Interviewing for this survey was conducted by the ICR Survey Research Group of Media, Pa.
About how often do you eat in a fast food restaurant like a McDonald's, Wendy's, Taco Bell or Kentucky Fried Chicken?
Every Day 4%
Several Times A Week 18
About Once A Week 26
Several Times A Month 15
Once A Month 14
Once Every Few Months 7
Once Or Twice A Year 8
Less Often Than Once A Year 1
What is the biggest single reason why you usually eat at a fast food restaurant? (Asked only of those who eat at fast food restaurants.)
It's fast. 44%
It's something different, 21
a break from the routine.
It's close to where you 15
live or work.
You like the food. 6
It's a good place to eat 6
if you have children.
It's inexpensive. 3
and nutritious food *
*Less than 1 percent
None/Don't know 5
Overall, do you think that most of the food served in fast food restaurants is very good for you, fairly good for you, not too good for you, or not good at all for you?
Very Good 4%
Fairly Good 40
Not Too Good 36
Not Good At All 18
Depends On How Often You Eat It 1
Don't Know 1
In the past few years, do you think fast food restaurants have started serving more healthful and nutritious food, less healthful and nutritious food, or do you think that there hasn't been much change one way or the other?
More Healthful 58%
Less Healthful 5
No Change 34
Don't Know 3
In the past few years, have you stopped or cut back ordering certain items in a fast food restaurant because of concerns about nutrition? (Asked only those who eat at fast food restaurants.)
Don't Know 1
After eating at a fast food restaurant, do you usually try to eat something lower in fat, salt, cholesterol or calories for your next meal, or don't you usually do this? (Asked only those who eat at fast food restaurants.)
Usually Do Try 38%
Usually Don't Try 60
Don't Know 1
Do you think that fast food restaurants should be required to provide nutrition information on the wrappers of containers of the food they sell?
Don't Know 3
In the past six months, have you ever eaten at a McDonald's restaurant? (Asked only those who eat at fast food restaurants.)
Overall, do you think that the food served at McDonald's is more nutritious or less nutritious than the food served at other fast food restaurants?
More Nutritious 14%
Less Nutritious 28
About The Same 45
Don't Know 13
Have you ever happened to ask for a copy of the McDonald's brochure listing nutrition information about the food they serve? (Asked only of those who eat at McDonald's)
Asked For Brochure And Got It 6%
Asked for Brochure But Did Not Get It 1
Never Asked For Brochure 93