How helpful are bans on fast food drive-thrus?

Photo: junpinzon (iStock)

In August, Minneapolis banned the construction of new drive-thru windows on in order to reduce traffic and noise. Since then, three other cities—Creve Coeur, Missouri; Long Beach, California; and Fair Haven, New Jersey—have enacted their own bans. Proponents claim that limiting drive-thrus reduces emissions and greenhouse gases and also obesity. Others aren’t so sure.

In a round-up of the debate over drive-thrus, NPR cited a study that analyzed drive-thru bans in 27 Canadian cities that concluded that the bans promoted overall health and prevented chronic diseases.

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But other research shows that they don’t: In a 2015 study of what happened after South Los Angeles banned new drive-thru windows, researchers found that obesity rates actually went up. The lead researcher on the study told NPR that drive-thru bans are not the answer to cutting obesity. Some communities have had better results by taxing soda or posting nutritional information on fast food menus.

“Instead of banning drive-throughs, we need to put pressure on the restaurant chains,” Hank Cardello, author of Stuffed: An Insider’s Look at Who’s (Really) Making America Fat and How the Food Industry Can Fix It, told NPR. “As an industry, they haven’t stepped up to make a commitment to cutting calories and improving nutrition... to make eating healthy more of a default choice.”

In a Takeout staff discussion this morning, it was agreed that with some exceptions (Chicken McNuggets, fries), most fast food doesn’t actually taste that good and drive-thrus are often slower than actually parking the damned car and going inside. Still, many of you left compelling reasons for continuing to use the drive-thru in the comments earlier this week: disabilities, kids in the car, reluctance to put on pants. Do you think we could actually survive without drive-thrus?

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About the author

Aimee Levitt

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.