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Indian Journal of Community Medicine

Socio-cultural and Nutritional Aspects of Fast Food Consumption among Teenagers and Youth

Author(s): D Kumar, P C Mittal, S Singh

Vol. 31, No. 3 (2006-07 - 2006-09)

D Kumar1, P C Mittal3 S Singh2


Food habits in general are influenced by socio-cultural background, religious beliefs and customs, and individual taste. But among teenagers and youth, there may be some added reasons for adopting fast food culture. Hence, the present study was undertaken with the objectives:

  1. To study the food habits of teenagers and youth in relation to fast food consumption.
  2. To study the socia-cultural, demographic and other characteristics of fast food consumers.
  3. To assess nutritional parameters of fast food consumers.

Material and Methods

The study was conducted during March to June 2003 in Allahabad City of Uttar Pradesh. A sample of four restaurants was selected by stratified random sampling procedure. The whole city was divided into four geographical strata and a sampling frame of restaurants in each stratum was prepared. From each stratum a restaurant was selected at random as first stage units. Within each selected restaurant a sample of minimum 30 fast food consumers aged 15-25 years was selected by systematic sampling technique on a randomly selected day that was not a special occasion such as fast or festival. Survey was conducted in the evening in order to exclude the possibility of replacing lunch or dinner by fast foods by the respondents to some extent.

Study subjects were interviewed for collecting information on their background, dietary habits, reasons for consuming fast food and nutritional parameters using pre-designed and pre-tested schedule. Dietary survey was also conducted by 24-hour recall method. Quantifying the intakes of common items and minimizing common sources of error improved the reliability of this method. The staple cereals consumed in this geographical area are rice, eaten boiled, or wheat, consumed in the farm of chapattis, which are homemade unleavened breads, made of whole-wheat flour. The size of these varies from household to household. The variability in the size of this food item introduces a major source of error in diet surveys. Hence, each respondent was shown samples of various sizes, and intakes were assessed accordingly.

These breads are consumed with dals (legumes), curries and vegetables. The respondents were asked to choose from 3 standard sized bowls, the one that corresponded closely to the bowl used by them. From this the quantities consumed were estimated. Similarly, respondents were made to choose glasses and standard serving spoons that corresponded best to their estimated intakes of rice, beverages and other foods. This procedure helped in minimizing the errors due to variability in household-to-household food portions. Energy intakes were calculated from these portions using appropriate food tables2 and compared with Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) as described by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR)3. Socio-economic status of cases was assessed by using modified Prasad’s classification provided by Kumar (1993)4. Body Mass Index (BMI) was used for assessing nutritional status. Persons having BMI below 18.5 were labeled underweight and above 25 were labeled overweight whereas study subjects having BMI between 18.5-25 were considered normal.

Results and Discussion

A total of 123 respondents, comprising of 63 males and 60 females, were interviewed for their fast food consumption pattern. The overall mean age was 17.8 ± 3.2 years. Majority of fast food consumers (68.3%) belonged to age group 15-18 years. Fathers of 78.8% and mothers of 45.2% respondents had graduation or higher educational qualification. Respondents whose mothers were housewives contributed maximum among fast foods consumers. Mothers of 99 (80.5%) of respondents were housewives and of only 24 (19.5%) respondents, mothers were engaged in some other occupations mainly teachers. Only 7.3% respondents had three or more siblings. Hindi medium students outnumbered English medium students by a factor of about 1.5, in contradiction of the stereotype projection of English medium schools as harbingers of Western influence. About half the respondents were non-vegetarian. Majority (66.7%) of respondents had BMI in the normal range, while 29.3% were underweight.

Samosa, a deep fried Indian snack, was the most preferred (99.2%) fast food item and Pizza (22.8%) came out to be the least preferred item, despite heavy doses of advertisement in favour of Pizza. These findings are in agreement with Verma (1983)5. This shows that two decades of vigorous advertisement in favour of western fast foods and corporatebacked fast foods has not been able to dislodge the traditional Indian Samosa from its most preferred position. Chaat also came out to be the most common fast food item preferred by 99.2% respondents. Shortage of time for cooking does not come out to be a major reason of consuming fast foods. Change from routine was the most common reason for consuming fast foods, given by 68.3% respondents. Majority of the respondents (73.2%) were occasional consumers of fast food. Most respondents (78.1%) did not report facing any problem due to consumption of fast foods. Only 32.5% respondents had a favourable attitude towards fast foods and 20.3% were aware of the nutritional consequences of these foods. Majority of respondents (63 %) were of the opinion that such foods have harmful effects on health. Shikanjee was the most common traditional Indian drink preferred by 83.7% respondents Consumption of Indian traditional fast foods was similar across all socio-economic groups. (Table I).

Table – I Consumption Pattern of Fast Food

Pattern Item Preferred No. (n=123) (% )
Samosa 122 (99.2)
Chaat 121 (98.4)
Bread Roll 48 (39.4)
Chow Mein 59 (48.0)
Noodles 60 (48.8)
Burger 60 (48.8)
Pastries 62 (50.4)
Pizza 28 (22.8)
Chhola Bhatura 107 (87.0)
Sambhar Dosa 96 (78.0)
Cold Drinks 121 (98.4)
Other 42 (34.1)
Reason of consumption
Change of taste 84 (68.3)
Shortage of time 31 (25.2)
Others 42 (34.1)
(Status Symbol ete) 08 (6.5)
Frequency of taking fast food
Weekly 22 (17.9)
Monthly 11 (8.9)
Occasional 90 (73.2)
Opinion regarding fast food
Favourable 40 (32.5)
Unfavourable 78 (63.4)
No response 05 (4.1)
Awareness of side effects
Aware 66 (53.7)
Not aware 57 (46.3)
Opinion regarding effect of fast3 food on physical fitness
Good 40 (32.5)
Bad 83 (67.5)
Consumption of Indian traditional fast food
Low SES (N=39) 17 (43.6)
Middle SES (N=46) 18 (39.1)
High SES (N=38) 16 (42.1)
Total SES (N=123) 51 (41.5)
Indian traditional drinks preferred
Shikanjee 103 (83.7)
Sharbats 73 (59.3)
Panna 40 (32.5)
Lassi 79 (64.2)
Sattu 21 (17.1)

Table II: Mean Calorie Intakes per Day by Age and Gender

  Routine Calorie Intake (kcal) Fast Food Intake (kcal) Total Intake (kcal)
Mean S.D Mean S.D Mean S.D
Age (years)
15 1756 651 601 157 2357 684
16 1905 117 488 82 2394 176
17 1840 123 397 207 2237 287
18 2364 501 501 194 2865 489
19 1931 321 628 258 2560 496
20-25 1810 602 791 222 2603 492
Male 1942 392 530 94 2472 432
Female 1840 584 631 229 2471 598
Total 1911 450 560 207 2472 477

Fast food contributed only to about one-fourth of mean energy intake of respondents even on the day of consuming fast food. However, cross-questioning indicated that the fast food did not replace any major meal of the respondents and seemed to occasionally add to their daily diet. Energy intake obtained by 24-hour dietary recall was not excessive compared to the RDA but apparently became excessive only on days that they ate out. Also, majority of respondents was occasional consumers of fast food, going to restaurants merely for change of taste and not to save time or as status symbol. These reasons explain why most fast food consumers were not overweight. Obesity is generally regarded as the most likely consequence of fast food consumption. High prevalence of problems faced after consumption of fast food in spite of low prevalence of obesity may be due to sizeable fraction of reasons associated with overeating, as is likely during an occasional outing out of routine. This is also borne out by the excessive energy intake of respondents on days of fast food consumption.

Protein content of samosa, the most preferred Indian fast food item found in the present survey can be improved by incorporating dal-based fillings instead of the potato. Some novel approaches, incorporating green leaf based fillings can improve its vitamin content too. Since samosa is deep-fried, it is essential to ensure use of fresh cooking medium. Such precautions and innovations can make this popular Indian fast food very nutritious.

The study concludes that adoption of fast food culture among restaurant going teenagers and youth, in a city like Allahabad, is limited to occasional outings. This holds irrespective of gender, socio-economic status and equally for vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Indian traditional fast food such as samosa has retained its most preferred position over two decades without any advertisement or corporate backing while pizza remains at the bottom of the preferred fast food list despite heavy advertising in its favour. As this study was confined to food consumed in restaurants, traditional Indian fast foods such as Namkeens and modern Indian fast foods such as Ready-to-Eat meals could not be included.


Authors are highly grateful to the referee for his/her valuable comments for improving this paper.


  1. Spear AS. Nutrition in adolescence. 2000. In Krause’s Food, Nutrition and Diet therapy. Ed. Mahan LK, Escott- Stump S. WB Saunders Co. Philadelphia, 257-270.
  2. Gopalan C, Rama Sastri BV and Balasubramanian SC. Nutritive value of Indian Foods, Hyderabad, 1999.
  3. Gapalan C, Krishnaswamy K and others. Dietary Guidelines far Indians- a manual. National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, 1998.
  4. Kumar P: Social classification – Need for constant updating. Indian Journal of Community Medicine, 1993; 18(2): 60-61.
  5. Verma S (1983): Nutritional profile of adolescents, Nutrition Review 1983, 39.

1 Deptt. of Social and Preventive Medicine, MLN Medical College. (Presently : Deptt. of Community Medicine, GMCH, Sector 32A, Chandigarh.)

2 (P C Mittal) Centre of Food Tehnology, Institute of Professional Studies, University of Allahabad.

3 Deptt. of Biochemistry, University of Allahabad, Allahabad-21002. Email: [email protected]

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