Saudi teen food trends: Study reveals ongoing shift towards fast food consumption

By Hui Ling Dang

- Last updated on GMT

A study revealed that one in three Saudi Arabian youths consume fast food more than twice a week. ©Getty Images
A study revealed that one in three Saudi Arabian youths consume fast food more than twice a week. ©Getty Images

Related tags Saudi arabia Nutrition Fast food Youth

One in three Saudi Arabian youths consume fast food more than twice a week, sparking concerns that the nation’s rapid economic development is leading to dramatic shifts in eating habits.

Furthermore, around 85% of Saudi Arabian youths claimed to prefer fast foods to home-cooked food.

To assess the relationship between the frequency of fast-food consumption and dietary quality, a cross-sectional study was conducted based on data collected from 617 healthy adolescents aged between 11 and 18 years.

The students were randomly recruited from 16 schools in Madinah and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, between October and November 2021. 

They reported their dietary intake and frequency of fast-food consumption in a typical week via questionnaires and 24-hour diet recalls respectively, while information on household income were provided by their parents.

Fast food is defined as food purchased from fast-food restaurants, including pizza, burger, fried chicken, French fries, and white-flour baked goods.

According to the findings, 28.5% of the participants ate fast food more than twice a week, with a higher proportion of male students (32.8%) being frequent fast-food consumers, compared to their female counterparts (24.8%).
In addition, students with the highest monthly family income (SAR 21,000 and above) were found to have a significantly higher frequency of fast-food consumption than those with a lower monthly family income.

“The median dietary-quality score was markedly lower in students who regularly consumed fast food. This group also had higher energy intake (1,371 kcal) than non-frequent fast-food consumers (1,179 kcal), which is likely due to the greater consumption of products that are rich in carbohydrates and added sugars,”​ said the authors.

Wake-up call

Due to the rapid economic development in Saudi Arabia, there has been a striking shift in eating habits and dietary patterns among the local population. In the past few decades, fast food has been increasingly integrated into the Arabian diet.

Fast-food consumption is commonly linked to heightened risks of multiple health conditions, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Recent studies have also associated it with larger meals and carbohydrate intake.

“Fast foods are considered as high glycaemic-index foods, which are known to affect metabolic and hormonal responses, leading to increased appetite, overeating and excessive hunger. This may result in an increase of overall food intake in a day,” ​explained the authors.

It should be noted that the study had several limitations, including the absence of school- and home-environment factors, which may affect the youths’ fast-food intake.
“The findings serve to guide public-health entities and policymakers in making evidence-based, culturally tailored recommendations, and developing national-level interventions to enhance the dietary quality and nutritional status of the younger population,”​ the authors concluded.

Source: PubMed

“Fast-Food Consumption, Dietary Quality, and Dietary Intake of Adolescents in Saudi Arabia”

Authors: Walaa A. Mumena, et al

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