Through our investigation we sought to explore the differences between Indian individuals living in a high- and those living in a low-income neighbourhood in Chandigarh, India, regarding their patronage of fast food restaurants, perception of fast food, and fast food consumption. The results of our study indicate that people from a high-income neighbourhood dined out more frequently and were more likely to perceive Western-style food as fast food, while people from the low-income neighbourhood were more likely to identify food sold by street vendors as fast food. Based on the questions asked, there were no significant differences in the reasons for visiting fast food restaurants between the two groups, such as convenience and price, and both groups were more in favour of home-cooked over restaurant meals.
According to the Indian Fast Food Market Analysis report, India’s fast food market is growing quickly, at a rate of 30-35% per year
. It has been suggested that rapid urbanization, swift economic growth, and increase in average income in India will lead to an increase in consumerism
. Our study found that individuals from the high-income neighbourhood were more likely to eat at fast food restaurants compared to their counterparts from the low-income neighbourhood. Furthermore, a large minority of our study participants (23%) were not familiar with what fast food is, while another 33% cited local street vendors as fast food providers, as opposed to Western-style fast food restaurants. Some classic examples of Indian street food include samosa, a deep-fried pocket of spiced mixture of potato and peas inside a dough made primarily of chickpea flour; channa batura, which is spicy chickpeas served with a deep-fried, puffy dough; and pav bhaji, a spicy, grill-fried puree of tomatoes, carrots, and peppers served with white-bread rolls. It is interesting to note that most street vendors also use their own recipes and make everything by hand, using a variety of oils and ingredients, so the nutritional content of the same type of food may differ from vendor to vendor. This greater consumption of Western-style fast food in the higher income group is in contrast to findings in studies in the West that indicate greater consumption among low income individuals
. This may be the result of strategic marketing by Western fast food companies defined as “glocalisation,” which describes a multinational company that tailors products and marketing specifically to local cultural tastes
. In addition, when a fast food company enters a foreign market they usually target the middle class and higher
[26, 27]. Consequently, given that entry of Western-style fast food branded products to India has been facilitated for the more affluent consumers, eating Western-style fast food on a regular basis is still financially out of reach for low-income people
. However, in our study, none of the participants cited price as impacting their decision to eat at these establishments. Furthermore, although the frequency of eating at Western-style fast food restaurants was higher among individuals in the high-income neighbourhood compared to their counterparts from the low-income neighbourhood, the frequency of eating at fast food restaurants was generally low among people from both neighbourhoods.
The Chandigarh Healthy Heart Action Project (CHHAP) reported that more people aged 15–24 years old living in an urban area (72%) preferred Western-style fast food than people of the same age in rural areas (37%)
. In our study, we reported that 30% of the high-income group enjoyed eating fast food compared to 10% of the low-income. Preference levels for fast food appear to be quite lower than the CHHAP findings. This difference may be due to the fact that we sampled people from a low-income neighbourhood where these participants indicated eating less at Western fast food restaurants. Another explanation for this difference could be due to our study population being older than that in the CHHAP study. Studies in the US generally indicate that fast food consumption is greater among younger people
We also found that in both high- and low-income study participants, home cooked food was preferred over food bought in fast food establishments and that nearly all participants indicated that home cooked foods are healthier than fast food. This is consistent with the results of an earlier study, which indicated that younger Indian fast food consumers prefer home cooked meals to fast food
. One of the reasons could be that in the West, fast food more closely resembles food typically served throughout the culture, whereas in India, Western-style fast food and Indian home cooked food are quite different. Although restaurants have tried to make and adapt food to local tastes, Western-style fast food is still categorically different than traditional fare
. Nevertheless, high-income participants reported eating at Western-style fast food restaurants more often, but there was no difference between the two groups with respect to the reasons for eating fast food. It should also be noted we found that eating for social enjoyment was the highest cited reason, followed by convenience, whereas Farhana and Islam found that brand loyalty and quality were the main reasons for consuming fast food in people living in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with a mean age of 25
. Goyal and Singh, who also found quality and value as the main reason why people patronize fast food restaurants, substantiate this point
. Interestingly, we also asked if the quality of meals were a reason for going to fast food restaurants and the response was over 90% negative. Again, age and regional differences might provide a reason for the discrepancy of the findings.
Given the rapid expansion of fast food industry in India, and in the light of the negative impact of fast food on health
, it is important to understand how Indians perceive fast food and the reasons they patronize fast food businesses. Given that fast-food consumption has been associated with increases in body weight and insulin resistance, it is further implicated in the development of Type 2 diabetes
. In general, people of South Asian background are at greater risk for CVD and diabetes compared to other ethnic groups
[12, 13, 31]. While most participants reported they would not eat fast food even if it were closer to them, the rapid expansion of fast food establishments will increase availability and likely reduce cost of fast food. These factors have been found to increase fast food consumption in other countries undergoing rapid economic growth
This study employed a cross-sectional design, so no conclusions can be made about the causal relationships between the variables. Moreover, only individuals between ages of 35 and 65 years were surveyed. Younger generations are typically the higher consumers of fast food, which may have obstructed a positive finding of higher levels of fast food patronage in a younger cohort. However, surveying older consumers is as important as surveying younger ones, as factors influencing choice of fast food establishments as well as reasons for visiting and eating at fast food outlets might be different for individuals of various age groups. The higher rate of illiteracy in the defined high-income neighbourhood was unexpected. Factors,such as self-reporting bias can play a role. Furthermore, according to Indian Census, 47% of the population rents a place
. Consequently, it is possible that people living in the house are not necessarily always the owners of the house but rather people who are renting the place and are from various educational and income brackets. Furthermore, in our study, we did not notice a statistically significant difference in individual income between people living in high- and low-income neighbourhoods. It has been established that people tend to deny socially undesirable traits or qualities and report more socially desirable ones instead
. Furthermore, others reported that high-income individuals may be reluctant to disclose their income
. Consequently, there is a possibility that income was misreported within the sample, with people from the high-income neighbourhood under-reporting and those from the low-income neighbourhood over-reporting personal income. Furthermore, as noted above, people occupying high-income neighbourhood houses may not necessarily be house owners but rather the tenants renting a place and coming from various income brackets. Moreover, study participants surveyed come only from two neighbourhoods in Chandigarh, so the results cannot be generalized to the whole city of Chandigarh or other cities/regions of India. In addition, given that reported consumption of fast food was low in our study sample, we did not have enough power to explore whether socio-demographic characteristics modify the relationship between neighbourhood income and fast food consumption.