Diabetes and drive-throughs: A deadly association

After yesterday’s rant about sodium—and how too many Americans enjoy packaged, processed, convenience foods—let’s discuss another harrowing statistic behind this “bad habit”…  

It’s a harsh condemnation of the fast-food industry (one I’ve been waiting years for!)… 

And if it doesn’t convince people to change their behavior, I really don’t know what will. 

So, without further ado, let’s dive right in… 

More restaurants, higher risk  

A recent study suggests that the more fast-food restaurants you live near, the more likely you are to develop type 2 diabetes.  

This was a national study, which included over four million people. Researchers distinguished between types of living communities and analyzed their access to food, to see different trends over time. 

The median follow-up was 5.5 years. And in that time, just over 13 percent of the subjects developed type 2 diabetes. The rate was highest among high-density urban community dwellers, followed by those in low-density urban communities, then rural communities, and finally, suburban communities.  

But here’s the most important part: For every ten percent increase in the number of fast-food joints (compared to other restaurants and grocery stores) in any given area, there was also a one percent higher risk in type 2 diabetes. (This increase jumped to two percent in suburban neighborhoods.)  

Meanwhile, every ten percent increase in the number of supermarkets compared with other types of food stores came with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes—in suburban and rural neighborhoods, at least.  

Now, as much as I would love to blame type 2 diabetes on fast food, we have to call this what it is—an association study. That means correlation, not causation.    

Just because the fast-food restaurants are there doesn’t mean they inherently cause diabetes. The real issue is when people don’t have reliable access to an alternative—or, as is often the case, when they decide to choose that fast food anyway.   

Choose wisely, every time 

In the end, the choices we make are the underlying cause of type 2 diabetes. 

If it were up to me, there would be a restriction on the number of fast-food restaurants in any given area. And they should always be accompanied by a greater presence and variety of supermarkets. After all, this is a public health issue—and we should treat it as one.  

You’re free to argue with that, of course—but the fact is, we do regulate behaviors that make us sick. Look at smoking and alcohol, for instance. When studies like this are conducted, the goal is to learn about the links between food environments and chronic diseases.  

Then, the responsibility is on us to do something with that information. For starters, policymakers can use it to change zoning laws to create better food options. (Sadly, the exact opposite happens right now.)    

But until then, here me when I say: We have eaten ourselves into this diabetes epidemic… and we can eat our way out of it. Avoiding the temptation and convenience of fast food is obviously an important part of that. So is choosing healthy, fresh foods—more often than not. 

As with most lifestyle recommendations, the choice is yours. And the power is in your hands. So, make wise choices—starting TODAY. 


“Neighborhood Fast Food Restaurants Linked to Type 2 Diabetes.” Medscape Medical News, 10/29/2021. (medscape.com/viewarticle/961854)