Emory Report
May 9, 2005
Volume 57, Number 30


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May 9 , 2005
‘100 billion McVeggie burgers sold’—what would it mean?

BY alicia sands lurry

As junk food consumption continues to escalate, Emory researchers would like to change the nation’s fast food habits. If the next 100 billion burgers sold under the Golden Arches were veggie-based instead of beef, Americans’ cholesterol levels, fiber intake and overall health would all improve, according to an article in the May issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The study’s senior author is Erica Frank, vice chair and associate professor of family and preventive medicine in the School of Medicine (SOM). Frank’s two co-authors are Elsa Spencer, an SOM postdoctoral fellow, and Nichole McIntosh, a former SOM student.

The study, the impetus for which Frank said was seeing the McDonald’s signs advertising “Over 100 billion burgers sold,” compares the McVeggie burger with McDonald’s beef hamburger and asks, what if the next 100 billion burgers were McVeggie patties instead of beef? The answer: McDonald’s customers would benefit from an estimated 1 billion more pounds of fiber, 550 million fewer pounds of saturated fat, 1.2 billion fewer total pounds of fat and even 660 million more pounds of protein, the authors concluded.

“I wondered how Americans and the environment might look different if these burgers had been veggie burgers instead of cow burgers,” Frank said. “The bottom line of the study is that the McVeggie burger substitution would provide more than a billion fewer pounds of fat, one billion more pounds of fiber, and even more protein.”

McVeggie burgers are sold in Canada and in some major cities across the United States, but not in Atlanta. Burger King sells a veggie burger in all of its restaurants. If given the option, Frank guessed, consumers could make the change from beef to plant-based patties relatively easy.

“It just seems like a pretty obvious thing, especially for burgers, which are mainly vectors to deliver ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles,” she said. “You usually can’t even taste the burger—which is actually pretty tasty in the case of the veggie burger. So, if someone wants to eat better at a fast food restaurant, a veggie burger is a really good way to do it.”

Since an estimated 8 percent of Americans eat at a McDonald’s on an average day (and 96 percent eat a meal there at least yearly), Frank said American consumers might suffer from fewer health problems like diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, cancer and cardiovascular disease if the next 100 billion McDonald’s burgers were McVeggie burgers.

Frank received no funding for the study.

“I have an interest in this because fast food is so prevalent,” she said. “For me, this is a very clear choice, and Americans must examine whether they’re willing to trade the health consequences of eating a beef patty versus a soy burger. Veggie burgers lower your cholesterol and give you more fiber and more protein. Beef raises your cholesterol, gives you more fat, more saturated fat, and usually includes raising and slaughtering cows in some pretty nasty conditions. Raising cows also wastes resources. For example, cows eat about 10 pounds of soy and grain to make one pound of meat.

“Besides that, both burgers taste pretty similar,” Frank added. “So, if you want to pick an easy way to improve your health and the health of the planet, this is a simple and good place to start.”