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Obesity in Hispanic Adolescents and Fast Food Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 16th, 2020


According to most health experts, there is a direct relationship between obesity and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Consequently, this nation spends a significant amount of the health budget treating these diseases. The prevalence of obesity in Latinos and Blacks is higher than the other races in the United States (Forsyth, Wall, Larson, Story, & Neumark-Sztainer, 2012). Some of the factors that are described as direct contributors to obesity include fast food consumption. There is plenty of literature describing the consumption of these foods among the Latino and Black population in the United States. The following essay is a literature review of some of the articles that describe the consumption of fast foods by the Hispanic adolescents.

Literature Review

Fast Foods and Obesity in Hispanics

Several researchers describe the eating trends of the Hispanic population in the United States. Most of these, however, describe the relationship existing between the prevalence of diabetes in the population and the consumption of fast foods. According to Greenhalgh and Carney (2014), the Latinos and the Blacks contribute to the increasing costs of healthcare in the United States. In their article, these researchers state the fact that there is a higher level of obesity in the two races compared to their counterparts in the nation (Greenhalgh & Carney, 2014). Not only is the prevalence of obesity high in this population, but there is a documented increase in the same.

There are campaigns in progress to ensure that there is a reduction in the prevalence of obesity in this population. An example is the First Lady’s led campaign against obesity. Some of the factors cited as promoting the increase in obesity in this population include their ignorance, low socio-economic status and food beliefs (Greenhalgh & Carney, 2014). In addition to these factors, the Latino population in the United States has a liking for fast foods.

The Latino population in the nation can afford the readily available fast foods (Greenhalgh & Carney, 2014). On the other hand, the alternative foods are expensive. The cost of fruits and vegetables has risen sharply over the last decade compared to other foods, and this population cannot afford such a livelihood based on their low living standards. Additionally, a Cambridge university study showed that healthy foods costs as high as three times that of unhealthy junk foods.

According to Greenhalgh and Carney (2014), most of the campaigns in place to reduce teenage obesity in the United States ignore important factors such as politics, socio-economics, and ethnographic information. Consequently, these researchers proved that the Latino population knows about the issue of obesity and are aware of the importance of diet (Greenhalgh & Carney, 2014). However, national factors such as the existence of this race in the low-end part of the United States economy makes it difficult for them to stick to a healthy diet (Greenhalgh & Carney, 2014).

The community structure of the country also allows significant racism that prevents the improvement of their living condition. According to Greenhalgh and Carney (2014), 19% of Hispanic population is obese compared to the national average of 14%. Therefore, the prevalence of obesity among the Hispanic population is higher than that of other individuals in the nation. Consequently, the high number of adult Hispanics that are obese can be related to the prevalence of high obesity in the adolescents that later turn to adults.

Fast foods are fast becoming the commonest way of meeting the nutritional needs of Latinos and other members of the United States population. In fact, there are many fast food chains spread all over the country with new brands entering the market every year (Greenhalgh & Carney, 2014). According to Zambrana and Carter-Pokras (2010), fast foods are a favorite for the Latinos because they are cheaper compared to other methods of meeting the nutritional needs. In addition, fast foods are easy to prepare. Consequently, Latinos can prepare these foods or buy them cheaply (Greenhalgh & Carney, 2014).

The main disadvantage of eating these fast foods is the higher caloric content that causes a rapid weight gain and obesity in the consumers (Greenhalgh & Carney, 2014). The foods add calories in the body without significant nutrition added to the body. The effects of the high caloric content include cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and liver damage. Latinos in the United States are at a higher risk of developing obesity compared to their white counterparts (Greenhalgh & Carney, 2014).

This statistic results from the high levels of fast food consumption among Hispanics. In addition, the prevalence of obesity among the Latino adolescents is higher than that in the white population. This race is only second to the Blacks who also have a high obesity rate in their adolescents (Greenhalgh & Carney, 2014).

According to Greenhalgh and Carney (2014), the rate of increase of obesity has reduced over the past few decades. These researchers state the prevalence of obesity as recorded in the year 2010. During this period, the proportion of adolescents and children that were obese was 16.9% of the population (Greenhalgh & Carney, 2014; Larson et al., 2014). This prevalence increased to over 31.7% of the population (Greenhalgh & Carney, 2014, p 267). According to Greenhalgh and Carney (2014), the CDC reports that Latinos are 1.2 times more predisposed to obesity than other citizens are.

The latest available data on adolescent obesity indicates that the Latinos are second to blacks in the United States (Greenhalgh & Carney, 2014). However, the rapid increase in the prevalence of this condition in the Latinos is worrying. In addition, the Hispanic population in the Country is expected to increase over the next few years as more immigrants cross into the United States. The prevalence of adolescent obesity, therefore, is expected to increase over the next few years with the Hispanic population contributing to this growth.

Fast Foods and Hispanics

There is a direct relationship between teenage and adolescent obesity and the consumption of fast foods. First, this age group has a higher energy requirement compared to their older counterparts because they are still growing (Zambrana & Carter-Pokras, 2010). Additionally, the Latino population has easy access to the fast food restaurants. According to Zambrana and Carter-Pokras (2010), the Hispanic population in the United States is rapidly increasing with a projected growth of over 2%. Additionally, the census data available for this population indicates that this race will form a third of the United States population in five decades (Zambrana & Carter-Pokras, 2010). This change will be significant given that the same group makes up a sixth of the United States population currently.

The predisposition to fast food restaurants among the Hispanics is also because of the rapidly changing social order. This population has been affected by the rapid urbanization that is evident in the areas where they live. Initially, the Hispanic population lived in the rural areas of Mexico before moving to the United States (Zambrana & Carter-Pokras, 2010). The highly urbanized areas make it difficult for the Hispanics to practice any form of alternative nutrition aside from the fast foods. Adolescents in this group, therefore, cannot access the alternative foods because of their busy lifestyle (Zambrana & Carter-Pokras, 2010).

The other available reason for the increase in the use of fast foods among the Hispanic adolescents in the United States is the duration of stay in this country and their socioeconomic background (Larson et al., 2014). These factors are known to affect other characteristics of this age group. Several studies conclude that contemporary Hispanic adolescents obtain less of their food from home with the restaurants and fast food joints providing most of their food (Larson et al., 2014). In fact, Larson and colleagues (2014) reported that almost one-third of the American teenagers and adolescents eat fast food on a daily basis.

The fast food restaurants have responded to the growing concern by changing their marketing strategies. The marketing strategies allow their consumers to make informed health choices through altering their diet. Some of the measures that the fast food companies have taken to ensure their clients make informed health decisions include the provision of information on the caloric content of the food products. Additionally, these fast food restaurants have introduced healthy alternatives such as salads, fruits, and vegetables in burgers (Larson et al., 2014). With these changes, the Hispanic community that is a major consumer of fast foods is likely to have healthier diets (Larson et al., 2014).

Aside from the provision of information on the trays and brochures, some of the fast food restaurants have specifically targeted the Hispanic community through the creation of education programs that teach healthy meal selection and how to improve their physical fitness (Larson et al., 2014). The growing relationship between the fast food restaurants and the Hispanic community, therefore, can be used to improve the nutritional outcomes of this society. In most of the studies that evaluate the relationship between obesity and the consumption of fast foods, the researchers stated the marketing methods used as major contributors.

Role of Hispanic Parents in Adolescent Fast-Food Consumption

The parents of Hispanic adolescents influence the nutritional decisions of these individuals. According to Greenhalgh and Carney (2014), parents influence the eating decisions of their children through explicit and implicit modeling of this behavior. For instance, children raised in healthy families are likely to continue with the healthy tradition in future. Similarly, Hispanic adults often influence consumption of fast foods by their children in their early life. Some of the ways that these parents influence the nutritional choices of their children includes their choice of eating places and the types of foods that they eat.

According to Greenhalgh and Carney (2014), most of the nutritional practices in adolescents were acquired in childhood. Exposure to certain foods during childhood, therefore, means that these adolescents grow up liking and eating them. These individuals also carry these eating habits throughout life meaning that they are also likely to visit fast-food restaurants even when they are adults. Consequently, a lifelong pattern emerges where the parents influence the nutritional decisions of their children.

The brand preferences of parents are known to create comfort in their children, and these are likely to prefer the same brand to others (Greenhalgh & Carney, 2014). Fast food companies target the children because they know that this population is likely to translate into future clients. The trends among the Hispanic families depend on the parentage, and the beliefs passed down through different generations (Greenhalgh & Carney, 2014). The preference for fast foods, therefore, is directly related to the family trends.

Ethnic Minority

Hispanics are a minority group in the United States with specific exposure to fast food marketing. The study of the ethnic factors in fast-food preference is important because of the variations in the prevalence of adolescent obesity among different ethnicities (Greenhalgh & Carney, 2014). According to Greenhalgh and Carney (2014), there has been an increase in the fast-food restaurants that use marketing strategies focusing on ethnic groups. In fact, researchers estimate that the Hispanics take up the most spending that is targeted to ethnicities (Zambrana & Carter-Pokras, 2010). Fast-food restaurants spend over $3.9 billion annually in their target of the Hispanic market. This amount constitutes the largest minority spending in the United States.

Zambrana and Carter-Pokras (2010) state that the disparities in health between different ethnic groups are the cultures that these groups have. In their research, Latino health was influenced by the acculturation taking place. Some of the factors established include the socioeconomic position of the ethnic group and their position in the society (Zambrana & Carter-Pokras, 2010). Zambrana and Carter-Pokras (2010) state that culture is the single most important determinant of disparities in preference. Consequently, the Hispanic adolescents’ preference for fast foods may be explained in terms of the cultural differences between their race and the other races in the United States.

Acculturation research was the focus of Zambrana and Carter-Pokras (2010) study, and they discussed some of the influences of cultural changes in the Hispanic community. Acculturation could be used to explain the predisposition that the Hispanic adolescents have to fast foods. According to Zambrana and Carter-Pokras (2010), the cultural influences of the Hispanics influence their health decisions. Consequently, the decision to eat fast foods is influenced by the culture of this population.

In another of the studies on the health behaviors of Hispanics, Allen and colleagues (2007) investigated the health behaviors of Hispanic adolescents that are aimed at preventing diseases and health incidents. Their study concluded that the Hispanics were spoilt than the Whites in their preventive health behavior (Hsieh et al., 2014). Their observation was consistent in all the age groups that participated in the study including the adolescents (Hsieh et al., 2014).

The Hispanic adolescents are poor in preventive health behaviors, as most prefer eating at their local fast-food restaurants compared to their White counterparts (Allen et al., 2007). However, the trend is evident in all the generations of this ethnic group. Most of the members prefer eating at the fast food restaurants that are easily accessible and cheap (Forsyth, Wall, Larson, Story, & Neumark-Sztainer, 2012). In the research, the conclusion was that “Latino adolescents demonstrated worse preventive health behaviors than did whites and, in the case of nutrition, a worsening across generations.” (Allen et al., 2007, p. 337). The trends were worrying, and the researchers proposed increased campaigns targeted at this ethnic group.

Vega, Ang, Rodriguez, and Finch (2011) investigated some of the neighborhood ecologies that influence the behaviors of Hispanic adolescents. Although their study investigated the prevalence of depression in this population, their study results are important in explaining some of the other factors in the nutrition of the Hispanic adolescents. The study of neighborhood characteristics explains some of the behaviors of Hispanic adolescents such as their nutritional preference (Vega, Ang, Rodriguez, & Finch, 2011).

According to these researchers, neighborhoods influence the characteristics of children that grow up here. In addition, any change that needs to be made should target the neighborhood.

Linguistic isolation and the neighborhood collective efficacy are some of the factors explained in the study as defining the preferences of Hispanics living in an area (Vega, Ang, Rodriguez, & Finch, 2011). The characteristics noted in the population under study included the differences between the native Hispanics and those that immigrated into the United States (Vega, Ang, Rodriguez, & Finch, 2011). The results indicate that there were differences between the immigrants and the natives who did not have a high prevalence of depression (Vega, Ang, Rodriguez, & Finch, 2011). The nutritional choices of Hispanic adolescents can be interpreted from this study.

Other social issues are also to blame for the observations made based on the nutritional preferences of the Hispanic adolescents including the policies in place (Trujillo, 2012). According to Trujillo (2012), equality in the American society is has improved over the last few decades. However, prejudice and discrimination are some of the issues that are facing the Hispanic adolescents in this country (Trujillo, 2012). The result is that the individuals cannot afford the more expensive nutritional choices aside from the fast foods.

The level of education also influences the cultural activities and behaviors of the Hispanic community. According to Frank, Beaudoin, Rascón, Garcia-Vega, and Rios-Ellis (2013), most Hispanics have a lower level of education than the national average. Consequently, this group has a large proportion of its members living below the poverty line. This factor means that they cannot afford basic nutritional foods aside from the readily available fast foods. Frank and colleagues (2013), also state that the low level of education in this society means that the Hispanic population cannot access the basic health literature and have poor access to insurance and other methods of health funding.

The immigration policies in place in the United States also compound the problem of Hispanics and their access to basic healthcare and nutrition in the country (Rhodes et al., 2015). According to Rhodes et al. (2015), more Hispanic adolescents drop out of school than any other ethnicity in the United States. Most of these individuals, however, immigrate to the United States without any level of education and cannot seek recognition in the country because they are thought to be here illegally (Rhodes et al., 2015). Federal immigration enforcement agencies in the border counties further discourage healthy living among the Hispanic adolescents.

Aside from the unhealthy eating behaviors of the adolescent Hispanics, the other worrying factors include their sedentary lifestyle (Trujillo, 2012). A combination of these factors is likely to cause an increase in the number of obese Hispanics. This generation eats canned foods and soda from their local restaurants as opposed to eating other forms of foods. Processed foods are associated with the higher level of obesity. Additionally, the processed foods sold at the fast-food restaurants are likely to cause some of the non-communicable diseases that are increasing in prevalence (Larson et al., 2014).


In conclusion, there are many studies on the eating habits of Hispanics in the United States. Most of these studies investigate the relationship between obesity and the nutritional characteristics of the Hispanics. Few studies investigate the adolescent Hispanic’s eating behavior. However, the existing studies show that there is a link between the consumption of fast foods among the adolescents and the prevalence of obesity in the generation and adulthood. Other factors that influence the consumption of fast foods by the population include the cultural behaviors of this population. These factors are discussed in the literature review besides some of the other factors established in previous studies.


Allen, M. L., Elliott, M. N., Morales, L. S., Diamant, A. L., Hambarsoomian, K., & Schuster, M. A. (2007). Adolescent Participation in Preventive Health Behaviors, Physical Activity, and Nutrition: Differences Across Immigrant Generations for Asians and Latinos Compared With Whites. American Journal of Public Health, 97(2), 337-343.

Forsyth, A., Wall, M., Larson, N., Story, M., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2012). Do adolescents who live or go to school near fast-food restaurants eat more frequently from fast-food restaurants?. Health and Place, 18(1), 1261-1269.

Frank, G. C., Beaudoin, J., Rascon, M., Garcia-Vega, M., & Rios-Ellis, B. (2013). Development of a Culturally Responsive Nutrition Promotion Course for Latinos. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, 105(1), 10-17.

Greenhalgh, S., & Carney, M. A. (2014). Bad biocitizens? Latinos and the US ”obesity epidemic”. Human Organization, 1(3), 12-19.

Grier, S. A., Mensinger, J., Huang, S. H., Kumanyika, S. K., & Stettler, N. (2007). Fast-Food Marketing and Children’s Fast-Food Consumption: Exploring Parents’ Influences in an Ethnically Diverse Sample. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 26(2), 221-235.

Hsieh, S., Klassen, A. C., Curriero, F. C., Caulfield, L. E., Cheskin, L. J., Davis, J. N., &… Spruijt-Metz, D. (2014). Research Article: Fast-Food Restaurants, Park Access, and Insulin Resistance among Hispanic Youth. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 1(23), 46378-387.

Larson, N., Hannan, P. J., Fulkerson, J. A., Laska, M. N., Eisenberg, M. E., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2014). Secular Trends in Fast-Food Restaurant Use among Adolescents and Maternal Caregivers from 1999 to 2010. American Journal of Public Health, 104(5), e62-e69.

Rhodes, S. D., Mann, L., Simán, F. M., Eunyoung, S., Alonzo, J., Downs, M., &… Hall, M. A. (2015). The Impact of Local Immigration Enforcement Policies on the Health of Immigrant Hispanics/Latinos in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 105(2), 329-337.

Trujillo, M. D. (2012). The Interplay between Prejudice against Latinos and Policy: A Social Psychological Perspective. Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, 24(1), 11-19.

Vega, W. A., Ang, A., Rodriguez, M. A., & Finch, B. K. (2011). Neighborhood protective effects on depression in Latinos. American Journal of Community Psychology, 47(1-2), 114-126.

Zambrana, R. E., & Carter-Pokras, O. (2010). Role of Acculturation Research in Advancing Science and Practice in Reducing Health Care Disparities among Latinos. American Journal of Public Health, 1(100), 18-23.

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