Impulsivity and Fast-Food Consumption: A Cross-Sectional Study among Working Adults



      Little is known about the decision-making process of adults who choose to eat at fast-food restaurants. Impulsivity is the concept that individuals value immediate rewards and disregard future costs.


      To determine the association between impulsivity and consumption of fast food among employed adults and to explore their reasons for eating fast food.


      A cross-sectional, online survey was conducted; participants were recruited using a mass electronic mailing.


      Four hundred seventy-eight adults employed in a university setting completed the survey.

      Main outcome measures

      The association between frequency of fast-food consumption and impulsivity was assessed. Impulsivity is assessed by the area under the delay discounting curve (AUC). The AUC is estimated by using a binary choice delay discounting task incorporating hypothetical monetary rewards. Greater AUC reflects lower impulsivity.

      Statistical analyses performed

      Analysis of variance, Student’s t tests, and Pearson correlation coefficients were used to measure unadjusted associations among demographic variables, fast-food consumption, and AUC. Linear regression was used to assess whether AUC was a significant predictor of having consumed fast food in the past 7 days, controlling for age, total household income, and education.


      The majority (67%) of the participants reported eating one or more meals from a fast-food restaurant or pizza place in the past 7 days. The mean number of meals was 2.8±2.5 per week among those who reported eating at a fast-food restaurant or pizza place. Both fast-food consumption and body mass index (BMI) were correlated with greater impulsivity. Controlling for age, total household income, and education level, fast-food consumption was negatively related to AUC (P=0.017). The most commonly reported reasons for consuming fast food were convenience and to socialize.


      These findings indicate that greater impulsivity was associated with greater fast-food consumption. Successful efforts to encourage healthful dietary behaviors might emphasize methods to overcome impulsivity, such as reward substitution and precommitment.


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      K. B. Garza is an assistant professor, Health Outcomes Research and Policy, Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy, Auburn, AL.


      J. K. Owensby is a doctoral student, Health Outcomes Research and Policy, Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy, Auburn, AL.


      M. Ding is a doctoral student, Nutrition, Dietetics, and Hospitality Management, Auburn University College of Human Sciences, Auburn, AL.


      C. A. Zizza is an associate professor, Nutrition, Dietetics, and Hospitality Management, Auburn University College of Human Sciences, Auburn, AL.