May 4 (UPI) -- Researchers at Ohio State University found that middle-income and high-income Americans were just as likely to eat fast food as poorer individuals.
The study used data from 8,000 people from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which began in 1979, about their fast-food consumption in 2008, 2010 and 2012.
All participants were in their 40s and 50s when surveyed about how many times in the past seven days had they eaten from fast-food restaurants such as McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken or Taco Bell.
Researchers compared results with participants' answers about wealth and income, finding 79 percent of respondents ate fast food at least once, and 23 percent ate three or more meals, during any one of the weeks in the study.
"It's not mostly poor people eating fast food in America," Jay Zagorsky, research scientist at The Ohio State University's Center for Human Resource Research, said in a press release. "Rich people may have more eating options, but that's not stopping them from going to places like McDonald's or KFC."
Researchers divided study participants into 10 groups based on income and found about 80 percent of people in the lowest 10 percent of income ate at least once at a fast-food restaurant, compared to 85 percent who were in the middle income category and 75 percent of the richest reporting they had at least once at a fast-food restaurant during a week of the study.
The lowest 10 percent of income ate about 3.6 fast-food meals in the three-week study period compared to 4.2 meals for middle-income participants and three meals for the richest 10 percent.
Researchers found that eating habits did not change when income changed dramatically during the four years of the study.
Time and convenience appeared to be the major influencing factor, more than income, when eating at fast-food restaurants.
The results of the study could help guide policymakers when it comes to passing laws regarding how to prevent obesity or guide nutritional choices for Americans.
The study was published in Economics and Human Biology.