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Study: Exposure to More Fast Food Options Makes People More Impatient

June 6, 2019

Impatient people typically want things to happen fast. A study found a link between impatient people and their food choices and how they’re more prone to choose fast food restaurants.

The study appears in the journal “Psychological Science.” It looks at the connection between fast food and a life of impatience. The original idea behind fast food was to increase efficiency, allowing people to quickly finish a meal so they can move on with the rest of their day. Study researcher Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management says we’ve taken it a step further – to instant gratification.

Think about other things that offer instant gratification and evaluate if they’re actually good for you. We try to teach our kids to eat their vegetables before they can have dessert, or do their homework before they can play, but we’re reducing essential components of life – like eating and exercise – to mere afterthoughts.

"Given the role that financial impatience played in the current economic crisis, we need to move beyond counting calories when we examine the consequences of fast food as it is also influencing our everyday psychology and behavior in a wider set of domains than has been previously thought," Zhong said.

The studies main findings include:

  • Unconscious exposure to fast food symbols increased reading speed when there was no time constraint

  • Thinking about eating fast food increases preferences for time-saving products

  • Mere exposure to fast food reduced people’s willingness to be patient and save, leading them to choose a financially inferior option

Zhong co-wrote the paper with colleague Sanford DeVoe. DeVoe says, “Fast food is one of many technologies that allow us to save time. But the ironic thing is that by constantly reminding us of time efficiency, these technologies can lead us to feel much more impatience. A fast food culture that extols saving time doesn’t just change the way we eat, but it can also fundamentally alter the way we experience our time. For example, leisure activities that are supposed to be relaxing can come to be experienced through the colored glasses of impatience.”

If you look at studies about the health of people in countries around the world, you’ll see a decline with the arrival of fast food and modern living – like video games and computer-based sedentary jobs.

Instead, the incidence of obesity, stress, heart disease and cancer increases. The environment is also suffering because of a mindset that looks only at what is wanted now, not at the consequences for the future, or sustainability.

If you think you'd like to make some changes to your diet, talk to your doctor. Or to learn more about the impact fast food is having on our daily lives, check out our interactive infographic. “Scary Fast Food Statistics” will show you how big a role it plays in our diets.

fast food nutrition facts