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Are fast food diets related to asthma and allergic diseases?

The fats in fast food are known to trigger parts of the immune response. Researchers determine whether fast food fats are linked to asthma and allergies.

More and more, Western fast food diets are being adopted to meet time and lifestyle demands. This diet can be described as calorie dense and high in salt, cholesterol, and refined sugars. Fast foods are often poor in nutrients because of processing methods, which alter the ingredients’ natural states.

The unhealthy fat content in fast food is a major issue because of the link between excess fats and the body’s immune system. Bad fats may trigger the buildup of immune cells to the body’s air passages and other parts of the body. These cells may promote chronic blockages in the airways, leading to breathing problems such as asthma, wheezing, and allergies.

Unclear links between fast food and immune-related issues

The link between fast food diets and immune-related issues had not been clearly described by scientists until earlier this year. Researchers in China published a review article in Respirology which compiled the findings of relevant studies to clarify this connection.

Using online article databases, the researchers found 16 studies that related asthma and other allergic diseases with fast food. These methods varied across the studies.  Using these studies, the researchers measured the occurrence of asthma, wheezing, eczema, skin reactions to common allergens, and nose congestion unrelated to the common cold in healthy and affected patients.

More fast food linked to higher severity of asthma and allergic conditions

The researchers found that the severity of asthma and allergic conditions related to how often fast foods were eaten. Having fast food one to two times per week was linked to severe asthma and wheezing problems. Increasing this frequency to three or more times per week and specifically eating hamburgers increased the chance of developing them.

Higher income countries, in which Western diets are more prevalent, have a higher risk of developing severe asthma than their middle-income counterparts. However, eczema, allergic skin reactions, and nasal congestion were not associated with eating fast foods.

Body fat also plays a role between fast food and asthma or allergies

Body mass index or BMI, a rough measure total body fat based on weight and height, also plays a role in the connection between fast food consumption and asthma, wheezing, and allergies. Having more body fat increases the chances that a person has or will experience these issues. Not to mention, fast food diets often lack important nutrients. This impacts how often these health issues occur and how well they can be managed.

It is important to note that BMI, the state of the social economy, living conditions, and other lifestyle factors were not clearly accounted for in the analyses but they may impact the link between fast food diets and asthma and allergic conditions. Also, the studies did not have a standard definition of fast food, lacking the consistency of what constitutes a fast food diet. The researchers used an adjusted statistical analysis to reduce any biases caused by these factors.

Overall, eating fast food can be correlated with asthma and wheezing, especially in high and middle-income countries. How much you eat will relate to how severe the health problems are. Foods like hamburgers are more damaging than others and should be limited to reduce the risk of experiencing these health issues.

Written by Amrita Jaiprakash, MSc


  1. Wang et al. Is the consumption of fast foods associated with asthma or other allergies diseases? Respirology. 2018. doi: 10.1111/resp.13339


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