Iranians Spend $3b on Fast Food Annually

People who eat fast food are unaware that the potential weight gain is just one consequence; junk foods are often heavy on fat and sugar, both of which can lead to the development of chronic disease when consumed in large quantities
People should pay more attention to what they eat.
People should pay more attention to what they eat.

Fast food consumption rate has increased significantly in the country over the last decades. According to figures released by the Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Iranians spend $3.1 billion (110,000 billion rials) on fast food each year.

“Given the fact that nutrition has an enormous impact on our overall health and wellbeing, people should pay more attention to what food they eat,” the Persian language weekly ‘Salamat’ quoted Dr Ali Milani, PhD student in Nutrition Policy at Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences (SBUMS), as saying.

Currently, about 76% of all deaths in the country occur due to non-communicable diseases (like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and diet-related cancers) and around one-third of all NCD deaths are related to heart diseases. Healthy diet can play a major role in reducing risk of heart diseases, he added.

While consumption of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables has improved during the past two decades, it has been outpaced by the increased intake of unhealthy foods such as processed meat and carbonated drinks.

“Iranians consume the highest amount of processed meat in the Middle East (on average an Iranian eats 8.5 kg of sausages every year). Sausages contain harmful additives nitrite and nitrate which can increase the risk of developing gastrointestinal and bladder cancers,” Milani warned.

Clearly dietary patterns have changed drastically in the country and various surveys also confirm this fact. “Based on our studies, Iranians’ food choices are not necessarily related to the high or low cost of the food product. An example in this regard is the annual per capita consumption of dairy products which is 60 kg, while the figure is 42 liters for carbonated drinks (globally the figure is 10 liters), and the price difference between the two products is not much.”

  Fast Foods Restaurants Near Schools

“We cannot blame the people alone for preferring junk food over healthy food choices,” Milani said, noting the high number of fast food restaurants springing up in the country.

Young students who come out of school hungry would be tempted to have a sandwich or pizza at a fast food restaurant around the corner. Students who eat the high-calorie delicious snack are unaware that the potential weight gain is just one consequence of eating out often. Fast and restaurant foods are often heavy on fat and sugar, both of which can lead to the development of chronic disease when consumed in large quantities.

In some countries like the UK, fast food restaurants are banned from opening near schools as health experts are concerned that many older children shun healthy school lunches for junk food, while younger students plead with parents or grandparents to buy them the unhealthy snacks on the way home. Unfortunately, in Iran not much attention has been paid to the issue, Milani said.

“In developed countries, high-income people generally have better diets based on healthy and organic foods, and low-income people have poorer diets due to higher intake of unhealthy foods.”

However, in Iran, it is found that people in the highest income deciles eat 41 times more fast food than people in the lowest income deciles.

  Increased Risk of Asthma, Rhinitis

Nutrition experts are constantly reminding us that most fast food is bad for health. One study, published online in the journal Thorax, looked at possible connections between consuming different types of food and the development of asthma, rhinitis (chronic stuffy nose) and eczema, a skin condition.

Researchers surveyed 500,000 kids from 31 countries in two age groups: ages 6 to 7 and ages 13 to 14. In both groups, kids who ate fast food three times a week or more had increased risks of asthma, rhinitis, and eczema—as much as a 39% increase in severe asthma risk for teens and 27% for younger kids. And just three or more servings of fruit appeared to reduce the severity of symptoms for all three conditions, the website reports.

Citing another study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, US, the website reported that teenagers and kids consumed far more calories in fast-food and other restaurants than they did at home. The numbers were alarming: eating out was associated with taking in as many as 160 extra calories daily for younger kids and as many as 310 calories daily for teens. “That information is troubling because obesity is a serious problem for children in the US and around the world.”

So what should a parent or grandparent do? Stacey Nelson, a registered dietitian who is a clinical nutrition manager at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital says it’s not realistic to ban children from eating out, but to be careful when you choose to do so. “Fast food is not health food and never will be, so the idea is never to make it a habit.”