Fast and Pluribus: Impacts of a Globalizing McDonald’s

The expansion of McDonald’s in the twentieth century brought the fast food chain to more than 100 countries. But how well did it integrate into its new home(s)?

McDonald's Japan Swing Manager Miwa Suzuki presents a box of McChoco Potato on January 25, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan

The connection between globalization and McDonald’s is a tale of scholarly metonymy. There’s no textual shortage of evidence that references the now-global fast food chain’s success in other countries , often linking it to themes of self-sufficiency, post-industrial stability, and democracy-formed capitalism.

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Among these chunks of research is a more endogenous angle that examines the impact McDonald’s has had within offshore cultures; namely, how the American fast food model has been diffused across different countries. Such case studies, which look at individual cultural phenomena and their direct applications to globalization activity, refines not only the framework of McDonald’s in theories, but overall globalization processes and strategies as well.

Japan’s stylish renditions of fast food practices, for one, existed long before McDonald’s came to the country. Given the existing popularity of convenient and on-the-go meals—including conveyor belt sushi and street vendor meals—American fast food chains were bound to succeed. Scholars John W. Traphagan and L. Keith Brown investigate this supposition by employing an ethnographic model of research, building the argument that Japan not only assimilated—but basically swallowed whole—the McDonald’s dining model , to the point that younger people especially believe McDonald’s is a Japanese company.

Traphagan and Brown emphasize that, rather than “styles of preparation or ingredients,” fast food is defined by “a style of selling food.” Essentially, McDonald’s brought no real paradigm shifts to Japan—but rather constructed a space in which already-formed Japanese cultural practices could continue.

Their case study contrasts with that of geographers Ray Oldakowski and John McEwen, who similarly investigate McDonald’s and its cultural assimilation—but in Ecuador. Their evidence shows that the integration of American fast food dining followed a different path , and McDonald’s remains an obviously foreign establishment in the cityscape. McDonald’s didn’t attempt to adapt to Japanese or Ecuadorian culture (for McDonald’s, “the strategy has been one of consistency, i.e. McDonald’s prefers not to change its way of doing business to adapt to foreign cultures, rather, it changes local cultures to meet its own needs,” they note), but Ecuadorians clearly viewed the fast food chain as a deviation from local tastes, unlike Japanese consumers.

“[A] comparison of exterior designs revealed that the McDonald’s in Guayaquil [Ecuador] were very similar to the typical McDonald’s restaurants in the United States,” write the authors. Moreover, the menus were also similar. Only 2 percent of those polled considered the food served at McDonald’s similar to Ecuadorian food. In contrast, very few interviewees considered Kentucky Fried Chicken—another American fast food establishment—different from Ecuadorian food. Eighty-four percent reported that KFC was the most similar to Ecuadorian food, and 68 percent said it was actually where they dined regularly.

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“Those results suggest that McDonald’s might gain new customers, and more visits from existing customers, if they also offered menu items more typical of Ecuadorian food,” conclude the authors.

In neither Japan nor Ecuador did McDonald’s actively work to adapt itself to the tastes of the host countries, but the depth of integration into local dining customs differed between the two nations. Such observations could prompt additional nation-specific analyses and possibly reveal additional adaptations to the “strategy of consistency” associated with McDonald’s. However, the study of the globalization of fast food from a micro-cultural angle requires challenging assumptive attitudes around American businesses and classical theories, with one of the most popular—and infamously controvertible—examples being the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention , built on tropes of democratic peace through development. Globalization and its effects could also be examined in light of McDonald’s cultural impacts on its origin country of America, opening a conversation on socio-economics and class .

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Comparing McDonald’s food marketing practices on official Instagram accounts across 15 countries

Omni cassidy.

1 Department of Population Health, NYU Langone Health, New York, New York, USA

Hye Won Shin

2 Department of Public Health Nutrition, New York University School of Global Public Health, New York, New York, USA

Edmund Song

Everett jiang, ravindra harri, catherine cano, rajesh vedanthan, gbenga ogedegbe, marie bragg, associated data.


Data are available on reasonable request.

Social media advertising by fast food companies continues to increase globally, and exposure to food advertising contributes to poor diet and negative health outcomes (eg, cardiovascular disease). McDonald’s—the largest fast food company in the world—operates in 101 countries, but little is known about their marketing techniques in various regions. The objective of this study was to compare the social media advertising practices of McDonald’s—the largest fast food company in the world—in 15 high-income, upper-middle-income and lower-middle-income countries.

We randomly selected official McDonald’s Instagram accounts for 15 high-income, upper-middle-income and lower-middle-income countries. We captured all the screenshots that McDonald’s posted on those Instagram accounts from September to December 2019. We quantified the number of followers, ‘likes’, ‘comments’ and video views associated with each account in April 2020. We used content analysis to examine differences in the marketing techniques.

The 15 accounts collectively maintained 10 million followers and generated 3.9 million ‘likes’, 164 816 comments and 38.2 million video views. We identified 849 posts. The three lower-middle-income countries had more posts (n=324; M, SD=108.0, 38.2 posts) than the five upper-middle-income countries (n=227; M, SD=45.4, 37.5 posts) and seven high-income countries (n=298; M, SD=42.6, 28.2 posts). Approximately 12% of the posts in high-income countries included child-targeted themes compared with 22% in lower-middle-income countries. Fourteen per cent of the posts in high-income countries included price promotions and free giveaways compared with 40% in lower-middle-income countries.


Social media advertising has enabled McDonald’s to reach millions of consumers in lower-middle-income and upper-middle-income countries with disproportionately greater child-targeted ads and price promotions in lower-middle-income countries. Such reach is concerning because of the increased risk of diet-related illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, in these regions.

What this paper adds

  • McDonald’s posts 154% more posts in lower-middle-income countries compared to higher-income countries.
  • McDonald’s uses more child-targeted marketing themes in lower-middle-income countries compared to higher-income countries.
  • McDonald’s uses more health promotion themes in higher-income countries compared to lower-middle- and upper-middle-income countries.


Poor diet is the leading cause of mortality worldwide, 1 2 and places individuals at risk for obesity and non-communicable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. 2 3 Although several factors influence diet, fast food has been linked to poor diet and obesity because of its calorically dense, nutritionally poor quality. 4–6 More than 30% of US youth consume fast food daily, 7 and fast food restaurant chains have rapidly increased their global presence, particularly in lower-income countries. 8 McDonald’s is the largest fast food company in the world with more than 14 000 restaurants in the US and nearly 22 000 restaurants in other countries. 9 Given fast food’s impact on nutrition and negative health outcomes, 4 the growth of fast food companies’ internationally, especially in lower-income countries, may exacerbate the double healthcare and economic burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases. 1 10

Although the relationship between the growth of fast food companies internationally and the individual demand for fast food is complex, fast food advertisements (‘ads’) play an influential role in persuading individuals to consume fast foods. 11 Food and beverage ads are ubiquitous on television and in outdoor settings, but social media ads are an emerging area of concern. 12 Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms in the world, 13 and allows fast food companies to advertise products through posting images and videos, and engaging with their followers through accompanying captions and comments. Currently, 60% of the world’s population uses the internet and 50% of the users are active on social media. 14 According to one growth projection, nearly 60% of global internet users were using social media in January 2020, which equates to over 3.8 billion social media users. 15 In an online study surveying over 15 000 adults from the US, the UK, Canada, Mexica and Australia, 64% of participants reported exposure to sugary drink marketing through online ads or social media. 16 Fast food companies that advertise on social media, therefore, are capable of increasing their market to people around the world who regularly access social media.

Data increasingly show that the majority of food and beverage ads on social media are for unhealthy foods and beverages. 17–19 In one study examining social media food and beverage ads in Australia, all of the foods advertised on Facebook pages managed by the food and beverage brands were for energy-dense, nutritionally poor foods. 17 Another study showed that 77% of the social media ads Canadian adolescents viewed within a 5-minute period were for unhealthy food and beverage ads, and 97% of these foods were considered high in fat, sugar and salt. 18 Exposure to these types of ads may contribute to food preferences and consumption that may precipitate poor diet and adverse health outcomes in these communities. 11

One of largest qualitative analyses of fast food ads across different countries examined 16 food and beverage company websites in Germany and the US (high-income countries (HICs)), China and Mexico (upper-middle-income countries (UMICs)) and India and the Philippines (lower-middle-income countries (LMICs)). 20 Results suggested that fast food companies advertised more healthy products in wealthier countries compared with lower-income countries, demonstrating segmentation in their advertising techniques across countries. 20 That study also found that food and beverage companies promoted more philanthropic activities in lower-income countries compared with wealthier countries. 20 Another content analysis examining 2 000 social media posts in the US demonstrated that 30% of posts included captions that attempted to interact directly with social media users. 19 Little is known, however, about the marketing techniques of a single food company in countries with varying economic statuses.

To determine if there are differences in the marketing techniques across multiple countries of varying economic statuses, the objective of this study was to compare Instagram posts for McDonald’s, the largest global fast food franchise, 13 in a subset of 15 countries of varying gross domestic products (GDPs) and: (1) determine the number of followers, ‘likes’, comments, posts, video posts and total views of videos and (2) quantify the frequency with which McDonald’s uses different marketing strategies.

We identified a sample of 15 countries based on three criteria: (1) if McDonald's was sold in the country; (2) if the country had an official McDonald’s Instagram page and (3) if the country could be categorised as an HIC, UMIC or LMIC based on 2019 World Bank classifications. 21 We chose McDonald’s because it is the largest global fast food chain, 13 and selected Instagram because it is one of the most popular social media platforms for adolescents and young adults with approximately one billion active users per month. 22 23

Data collection

We collected data from September 2019 to April 2020, and the Instagram posts were gathered from September to December 2019. We used McDonald’s corporate website to generate a list of all the countries with McDonald’s fast food chains (see figure 1 for flow chart). We then made a list of all official McDonald’s Instagram accounts for each of the countries. To determine if the Instagram account was officially associated with McDonald’s, we confirmed the presence of a ‘verification badge’ on the Instagram profile. A verification badge is a blue checkmark logo that appears next to the account’s name that signifies that Instagram has confirmed the account is associated with a celebrity, public figure or global brand. McDonald’s only had one official account for most of the countries. If McDonald’s had more than one official account for the country, we used the account with the most followers. From this list, we selected a subset of 15 countries, ensuring that at least one country was represented in each of the continents in which McDonald’s operates. The country remained in the sample pool if it met the inclusion criteria. If a country did not meet the criteria, it was excluded, and another country was randomly selected. This process was repeated until all 15 countries met the criteria. We initially identified and selected countries based on GDP. On further reflection, we determined that classifications from the 2019 World Bank Database were more appropriate. 21 We then grouped the countries into their respective economic categories based on the three classifications defined by the 2019 World Bank Database: HIC, UMIC and LMIC. 21 We screen captured all posts on the official McDonald’s Instagram accounts from 1 September 2019 to 31 December 2019. In April 2020, we recorded image type (image or video) and number of ‘likes’, comments and video views, if applicable.

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is bmjnph-2021-000229f01.jpg

Flow chart of country selection.

Establishing the qualitative codebook

To evaluate the posts for their marketing content, we developed a qualitative codebook based on similar qualitative food marketing studies. 19 24 The codebook ( online supplemental appendix 1 ) included the following variables: (1) food and/or beverage shown; (2) celebrity/influencers/sponsorships; (3) healthy habits (eg, exchanging fries for apples); (4) child-targeted (eg, showing a picture of a child or adolescent); (5) special price promotions; (6) promote McDonald’s app, website or McDelivery; (7) free giveaway/voucher; (8) culturally relevant (eg, religious symbols); (9) engagements (eg, encouragements to like, comment or read the bio); (10) philanthropy/charity; (11) emotional appeal; (12) new branch (ie, promoting a newly opened McDonald’s restaurant) and (13) humour (eg, memes). We discussed the definition of each codebook category to ensure consistency among coders. The definition of each marketing technique is summarised in table 1 .

Definition of the marketing techniques

Supplementary data

Pilot coding.

Pilot coding was conducted to establish interrater reliability using 10% of the posts. An acceptable level of reliability was determined by at least a 90.0% agreement or Krippendorf alpha coefficient of 0.70 or above. 25 Five coders were initially trained on the codebook and participated in the pilot coding. However, only two coders achieved a Krippendorf alpha coefficient of at least 0.70 or 90.0% agreement for all variables, and they coded the remaining 90% of the data. The codes for the remaining three coders were discarded. Because the two coders rated the same sample of data, there were two potential sets of data. The final dataset was composed of half of each of the two coders’ sets of data based on random selection. Some of the countries’ Instagram accounts had posts that were not in English, so we used Google Translator in the Chrome extension to translate these posts into English.

Data analytical plan

We used R V.1.2.1578 to conduct descriptive analyses to calculate the number of followers, ‘likes’, comments, posts, video posts and video views associated with each McDonald’s Instagram account. We also calculated the frequency that McDonald’s used each marketing technique across the 15 countries.

Patient and public involvement

The project does not include human subjects and was exempt from human subjects ethics review committee. It was not appropriate or possible to involve patients or the public in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of our research.

Descriptive characteristics

We identified McDonald’s franchises in a total of 118 countries, and McDonald’s had official Instagram accounts for 62 countries. Our subset of 15 countries (25% of all accounts) included: the US, Australia, Canada, the UK, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Portugal and Panama (HICs); Romania, Lebanon, Malaysia, Brazil and South Africa (UMICs) and Indonesia, Egypt and India (LMICs). These countries collectively maintained 10 million followers, generated 3 883 952 ‘likes’, 164 816 comments, and 38 247 012 video views, and posted 849 times during the 4-month data collection period (see table 2 ). The average numbers of followers were 2.1 million (LMICs; 0.9% of Instagram users), 3.5 million (UMICs; 2.0% of Instagram users) and 4.4 million (UICs; 1.5% of Instagram users; see table 2 ). The countries with the highest number of followers included the US (3.7 million; HIC), Brazil (2.6 million; UMIC) and Indonesia (1.1 million; LMIC).

Characteristics of McDonald’s Instagram account by country for the third quartile of 2019

*Data available from: Digital 2020: Global Digital Overview (Internet). 15 Smart Insights and Hootsuite. 14 2020 (cited 30 June 2020). Available from: https://datareportalcom/reports/digital-2020-global-digital-overview .

†Averages rounded down to whole numbers to improve interpretation.

UAE, United Arab Emirates.

We identified 153.7% more posts on average in LMICs compared with HICs. That is, we identified an average (SD) of 108.0 (38.2) posts in the LMICs as compared with 42.6 (28.2) posts in the HICs during the same time period.

Qualitative analysis of marketing strategies

Child-targeted marketing themes appeared more frequently in lower-income countries than HICs (see figure 2 ). The reverse was true for health promotion themes. We identified 71 (22.0%, see table 3 ) child-targeted posts in LMICs, but just 33 child-targeted posts (14.5%) in UMICs and 37 (12.4%) in HICs. The HICs’ accounts also portrayed more healthy habits (n=14, 4.7%) compared with the UMICs’ accounts (n=6, 2.6%) and LMICs’ accounts (n=8, 2.5%).

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is bmjnph-2021-000229f02.jpg

Food and beverage advertisements (‘ads’) shown and marketing strategies used by McDonald’s on Instagram by economic classification for the third quartile of 2019.

Marketing strategies used by McDonald’s on Instagram for each country for the third quartile of 2019

App/web, promote McDonald’s app, website or McDelivery; Branch, new branch opening; Celebrity, celebrity/influencers/sponsorships; Charity, philanthropy/charity; Child, child-targeted; Culture, culturally relevant; Emotion, emotional appeal; Engage, engagements; Give, free giveaway/voucher; Health, healthy habits; Price, special price promotion; UAE, United Arab Emirates.

Two forms of price-related themes—free giveaways and price promotions—appeared more frequently in LMICs' accounts compared with HICs’ accounts. Free giveaways were offered the most on LMICs’ accounts (n=70, 21.6%) compared with the UMICs’ accounts (n=23, 10.1%) and HICs’ accounts (n=18, 6.0%). LMICs’ accounts promoted the most special price promotions (n=59, 18.2%) compared with the UMICs’ accounts (n=30, 13.2%) and the HICs’ accounts (n=25, 8.4%).

Nearly a quarter of all posts included culturally relevant themes, and engagement tools appeared more frequently in LMICs than HICs (see figure 2 ). McDonald’s promoted the opening of a new restaurant more frequently in LMICs’ accounts (n=13, 4.0%) than UMICs’ accounts (n=2, 0.9%) and HICs’ accounts (n=0, 0.0%; see figure 2 ). After rating each country, there were several notable marketing techniques that were unique to one or a small number of countries. For example, 71.4% (n=5) of posts with the healthy habit theme appeared alongside free books and Happy Meals in Indonesia’s account and 50.0% (n=3) in Lebanon’s account. Australia’s account was the only one in the sample that recognised or expressed gratitude to employees and promoted using locally grown produce. Additionally, 93.3% of South Africa’s posts included a celebrity endorsement (n=14; see table 3 ). We also observed country-specific marketing techniques for sports, religion and culture. The Instagram account from Canada, for example, featured the Raptors, a professional basketball team from Toronto. Australia’s account referenced ‘100% Aussie’, and the McDonald’s account for India posted nine images celebrating Diwali, Dussehra and Onam, whereas the account for the UAE and Lebanon depicted Eid and Halal-certified food.

Fast food consumption is one factor influencing poor diet that may precipitate obesity and diet-related chronic illnesses. 4 Exposure to fast food ads through social media may place vulnerable groups—particularly those in lower-income countries—at increased risk for obesity and diet-related chronic conditions. 1 26 This study examined the social media food marketing strategies of McDonald’s, the largest fast food franchise in the world, on Instagram accounts in a subset of 15 countries of varying economic categories. Overall, there were more McDonald’s Instagram posts, on average, on LMICs’ accounts compared with HICs’ accounts, but the data must be interpreted cautiously given the uneven sampling. Data also showed that McDonald’s offered more special price promotions and free giveaway/vouchers on accounts in LMICs compared with UMIC and HICs, suggesting that McDonald’s may be using value price promotions as a marketing technique more in LMICs compared with HICs. Price is a key component of a marketing mix and is often used to aid consumer purchases, particularly among lower-income communities who may use price as a decision point. 27 Although no study has directly examined price promotion marketing techniques on social media in different countries of varying economic categories, these findings are consistent with studies demonstrating the disproportionate amount of price promotion offers with food and/or beverages in lower-income areas. 27–29

More McDonald’s Instagram accounts in LMICs used child-targeted marketing techniques compared with the accounts in UMICs and HICs. Studies have found that many food and beverage companies promote unhealthy food and beverage products on social media using child-targeted marketing, 18 30 influencing brand loyalty at a young age. 31 One study has shown the powerful persuasive effect of using food companies’ brand characters to market to children. 32 Other studies have shown that fast food companies disproportionately target children and young adolescents 33 and more often use child-directed marketing in middle-income neighbourhoods compared with high-income neighbourhoods. 34 Although interpretation is limited due to our sample size and uneven sampling distributions, our findings will add to the growing literature because it highlights the possible relationship between child-targeted marketing techniques on social media and lower-income countries.

This study showed that McDonald’s used celebrity/influencers/sponsorships endorsements more on Instagram accounts in HICs and UMICs compared with LMICs. The persuasive effect of celebrity and influencer endorsements on food marketing has been demonstrated in many studies. 35–37 Celebrity and influencer endorsements may lead to consumers recognising brands more easily, viewing brands more positively, and increasing the desirability of endorsed brands. 35–37 Social media influencers who endorse unhealthy foods, in particular, may also lead to higher consumption of unhealthy foods among youth compared with influencers who endorse non-food products. 36 The similarity of the usage of celebrity endorsement between the HICs’ accounts and the UMICs’ accounts could be attributed to the relatively high use of celebrity endorsement by South Africa’s account, a UMIC. Therefore, a more thorough understanding of the celebrity endorsement technique could be obtained with a larger sample size.

McDonald’s Instagram accounts in HICs featured more healthy habits themes compared with accounts in UMICs and LMICs. This finding is consistent with a similar study by Bragg et al that suggests HICs’ websites promote healthier food alternatives compared with LMICs. 20 However, our definition of healthy habits included many different aspects of well-being ( table 1 ), which may prevent direct comparison. Further studies are needed to more thoroughly assess the healthy habits category. For example, the healthy habits variable could be divided into four smaller variables: reference to healthy diet (eg, apples, salad), reference to exercise, promoting education, and promoting local produce.

Additional considerations when interpreting these data are that McDonald’s may operate differently in various countries. For example, McDonald’s operating in the UK has a different chain of command and operating structure than a McDonald’s in the US. 38 It is also difficult to identify which department manages the social media campaigns and whether the social media is coordinated within the company or contracted to a social media marketing agency. In the US, the social media accounts are typically coordinated within a company; however, if accounts are contracted out in other countries, there may be additional variables to consider. 39 Other factors include whether the country’s government tolerates Western culture, as well as freedom of media. In recent years, for instance, Lebanon has had a widespread government campaign to reduce social media accounts critical of the government. 40 These governmental differences may affect the data as McDonald’s is seen as a Western symbol, which may not be tolerated in some regimes and governments. McDonald’s may have to avert certain Western ideologies in order to comply with government regulations.

There were several limitations to our study. This study was limited to a subset of 15 countries, so the results must be interpreted with caution. We did not have an equal number of countries for each income category and countries have different population sizes, which may skew the results. However, we were still able to generate preliminary information that could be used in future studies. We also used Google Translate, so we might have incorrectly translated some posts. In addition, this study did not explore the individual-level factors of consumers—the personal characteristics of McDonald’s Instagram followers in the various countries (eg, age, household income), purchasing behaviours or consumption patterns resulting from following these McDonald’s accounts. As previously noted, these and other factors are core to the complex relationship between consumer demand and food companies. It will be important for future food marketing studies to effectively examine this complexity. These data also do not provide information on additional factors that may influence personal social media use, including age or household income. Such data are typically proprietary and expensive to obtain. Still, this study has several strengths. It is the first to provide an exploratory analysis of Instagram usage by McDonald’s, a single fast food company, in different countries of varying incomes. There are very few data examining the ways fast food companies may market products differently in other countries.

As the largest fast food franchise in the world, McDonald’s provides fast food to communities around the globe. As social media use grows, fast food companies’ social media ads may have unprecedented effects on dietary options, especially in lower-income countries. 15 By targeting certain subsets through child-targeted ads and price promotions, McDonald’s social media ads may exacerbate healthcare issues in the most vulnerable countries in the world. 1 26 These data support the growing need to address the globalisation of food and beverage marketing in developing countries that may experience higher burdens of poor diet, obesity and related illnesses. 1 26

Contributors: OC substantially contributed to the interpretation of data for the work, drafting and revising it critically for important intellectual content. HWS, ES, EJ, RH and CC substantially contributed to the acquisition and analysis for the work and drafting the work. RV and GO substantially contributed to the interpretation of data for the work and revising it critically for important intellectual content. MB substantially contributed to the conception and design of the work, interpretation of data for the work and revising it critically for important intellectual content. All authors approved the final version to be published and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

Funding: This study was partially supported by NIH grant, DP5OD021373-01 (MB) and AHRQ grant, 1T32HS026120-01 (OC).

Disclaimer: The funding agencies did not have any role in the design, collection, analysis, or interpretation of data or in writing the manuscript.

Competing interests: None declared.

Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Author note: The authors wish to make it clear that so far as reference 11 is concerned, McDonald's was not one of the fast food companies that were specifically referred to in this article.

Supplemental material: This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.

Data availability statement

Ethics statements, patient consent for publication.

Not applicable.


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McDonald’s and the Challenges of a Modern Supply Chain

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  • Steve New teaches operations and supply-chain management at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School and is a fellow of Hertford College.

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McDonald's in Moscow: A 'Bolshoi Mak'

By Felicity Barringer, Special To the New York Times

  • April 30, 1988

McDonald's in Moscow: A 'Bolshoi Mak'

The prospect of golden arches on Gorky Street moved a step closer today when the McDonald's Corporation agreed to help put two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a Soviet bun.

The Big Mac will be sold in its original form at 20 McDonald's restaurants in Moscow and will be known as the Bolshoi Mak (bolshoi means big in Russian).

A joint-venture agreement to open the restaurants and a huge food-processing plant to service them was announced today by the company's subsidiary, McDonald's Restaurants of Canada, and the food-services division of the Moscow City Council.

The restaurants will be staffed by Soviet workers, McDonald's said, and run by Soviet managers trained in McDonald's traditions, perhaps at the company's ''hamburger universities'' in Illinois, London, Munich and Toronto.

McDonald's first restaurant is not expected to open before the fall. It will have 650 seats, and George A. Cohon, the president of the Canadian subsidiary, said, ''We think this will be the highest-volume McDonald's in the world.''

The Bolshoi Mak will sell for 2 rubles (about $3.38), or approximately 1 percent of the average Soviet monthly salary. (In the United States, the average Big Mac costs $1.45.) ''The Big Mac will taste the same'' as it does anywhere else in the world, Mr. Cohon promised at a news conference in the City Council offices.

Mr. Cohon first met with Soviet officials at the Olympic Games in Montreal in 1976, a McDonald's spokesman said, and negotiations leading to today's announcement have been going on for more than 10 years. The pace quickened after Mikhail S. Gorbachev became the Soviet leader.

Because Mr. Cohon took the lead role, the deal was made through the Canadian subsidiary, McDonald's said. Questions About Supplies

For skeptics who suspect that the promise of getting a happy meal on the run in Moscow - or the promise of McDonald's receiving a steady supply of meat, potatoes and cheese - might be a whopper, Mr. Cohon offered assurances that ''our specialists have visited many facilities to be sure that the comparable products exist.''

He added, ''We wanted to use the local product whenever possible.''

However, a spokesman for the Moscow City Council, Valery A. Zharov, admitted, ''We will face some problem in obtaining some supplies for the central processing center.''

He added, ''McDonald's has very strict requirements.''

The golden arches near Red Square would not be the first in a Communist country. A McDonald's opened in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, earlier this year; another is expected to open in Budapest this month.

Moscow dramatically signaled its interest in McDonald's in November 1986, when Soviet television carried a flattering portrait of a McDonald's restaurant. Viewers were shown hamburgers sizzling on the grill as the staff hustled behind the counter, filling orders. A commentator observed, ''Maybe there is something we can learn from this.''

The first McDonald's in Moscow will open on Gorky Street, near the City Council's offices and not far from the site where Moscow's first Pizza Hut restaurant is expected to open late this year or early in 1989.

The second McDonald's to open, at an undisclosed location, will sell warm burgers for cold hard Western currency.

Mr. Cohon and his Soviet partners would not say how much money McDonald's would invest in the project. The bulk of the initial investment will be put into the construction of a ''commissary,'' or processing plant, in Moscow.

Envisaged as a 100,000-square-foot complex operating at an as-yet-unchosen location, this commissary would have several production lines - one for potatoes, one for meat, one for sauce - as well as a bun bakery, a pie bakery, freezing operations and a distribution center.

This plant would supply all 20 restaurants, the agreement said. McDonald's Owns 49 Percent

Established under the Soviet law on joint ventures adopted last year, the McDonald's venture is 51 percent owned by the Soviet partner and 49 percent by McDonald's. The law guarantees the Western partners the opportunity to repatriate their profits, an essential feature because the Soviet ruble is not convertible into Western currencies at the official exchange rate. One problem the venture faces is packaging. ''That's going to be rough,'' Mr. Cohon said. He said that plastic and paper packaging might be imported from Yugoslavia.

''The important thing for us,'' he added, ''is opening the restaurant, being sure queues are kept to a minimum, being sure that service is proper, the sandwich is warm and the premises are clean.''

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Breaking news, fast-food chains still serve meats containing antibiotics — here are the ones to watch out for.

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Chick-fil-A announced last week that it would be shifting away from antibiotic-free chicken starting this spring  — though they aren’t the only fast-food chain still using antibiotics in their meats.

According to the non-profit U.S. Public Interest Research Group, restaurant chains Burger King, Starbucks, Olive Garden, Panda Express, Little Caesars, Domino’s, Sonic, Arby’s, Jack in the Box, Dairy Queen, Buffalo Wild Wings and Pizza Hut were all given an “F” for antibiotics in meat.

Chick-fil-A announced last week that it would be shifting from antibiotic-free chicken

Taco Bell, Applebee’s and iHOP were all graded a “D” in their efforts to reduce the use of antibiotics, the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a 2021 assessment done in partnership with Consumer Reports and other organizations.

Meanwhile, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Subway were rated a “C,” Panera was given an “A-” and Chipotle scored an “A.” Nothing was rated a “B.”

“The growth and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a global health crisis, threatening to create a future in which common infections could once again become life-threatening on a large scale,” the report said .

Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria on meat that causes food poisoning — such as salmonella and campylobacter — evolves to become unaffected by the antibiotic drugs used to kill them and may become indestructible.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) both consider it one of the top global public health threats.


The CDC estimates that at least 35,000 Americans die from resistant infections every year, and each year 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness.

Germs like campylobacter, salmonella and shigella contribute to an estimated 742,000 antimicrobial-resistant infections annually.

The number of drugs these germs are resistant to seems to be increasing, the CDC added.

Taco Bell

“Fast food restaurants, as some of America’s largest meat buyers, can play an instrumental role in pushing meat producers to use antibiotics responsibly,” the report read. “Fast food can have a significant impact on antibiotic use in the beef industry.”

“Although there is massive progress in the chicken industry in response to such consumer demand, many fast food restaurants have failed to make meaningful commitments to address antibiotic overuse in their beef supply chains this year,” the report continued, adding that Wendy’s is “one notable exception” as the company committed to ending the routine use of medically-important antibiotics by the end of 2030.

Before backtracking, Chick-fil-A switched to antibiotic-free chicken in 2014, eventually meeting its goal of serving antibiotic-free chicken at all chain restaurants in 2019. 

“To maintain supply of the high-quality chicken you expect from us, Chick-fil-A will shift from No Antibiotics Ever (NAE) to No Antibiotics Important To Human Medicine (NAIHM) starting in the spring of 2024,” Chick-fil-A’s turnaround announcement read last week.

Chik-fil-A isn’t the only company to retreat on an antibiotics promise.

Panera Bread recently switched from its antibiotic-free policy in its pork and turkey products, claiming that the policy limited supply chain options, according to Reuters . 

Tyson Foods also stopped using its “no antibiotics ever” label on its chicken last summer, having previously gone antibiotic-free in 2017.

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research paper on mcdonald's food

I ordered the same meal at a McDonald's in Moscow and New York City, and the Russian location was a step up from the American one

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  • The USSR got its first McDonald's in January 1990 . On a recent trip to Russia, I visited the fast-food restaurant in Moscow.
  • I found that the Moscow location of the fast-food restaurant was a step up from its counterparts in the US.
  • The ordering process was streamlined, the food tasted fresher and more flavorful, and the space was cleaner.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories .

Insider Today

On January 31, 1990, more than 30,000 people waited in line in the cold for hours to eat at the very first McDonald's in the USSR.

Now, the American fast-food chain has at least 650 locations  throughout the country. McDonald's is thriving in Russia , with the number of restaurants growing 6% last year, as compared to the global average of 1.5%, The Wall Street Journal reported. And most of the restaurants in Russia cook with ingredients that are sourced from local Russian suppliers, according to the Journal.

Read more : I toured a gated estate outside of Moscow that was built by the 'Trump of Russia.' From its golf course to the mansions I was forbidden to photograph, it wasn't hard to see its appeal for the country's billionaires.

On a recent trip to Russia, I ate at the first McDonald's to open in Moscow, and it was a step up from the locations I've visited in the US.

Here's what it was like.

The first McDonald's opened in the USSR in January 1990.

research paper on mcdonald's food

More than 30,000 people waited in line in the cold for hours to be the first to eat at the American fast-food chain. Many of them, The Wall Street Journal reported in 2007, had never tasted burgers and fries before.

Now, there are at least 650 McDonald's throughout Russia and the fast-food chain is thriving in the country.

On a recent trip to Russia, I ate lunch at the country's first McDonald's, which is in Moscow, to see how it stacks up against its counterparts in the US.

research paper on mcdonald's food

Russia's first McDonald's is in central Moscow at Pushkin Square, right off famous Tverskaya Street and steps from the metro. 

When I stepped inside, I was surprised by how spacious the fast-food restaurant was.

research paper on mcdonald's food

It also seemed very clean. I didn't see any garbage on the floor or half-eaten food sitting on empty tables.

The McDonald's sprawls over several levels.

research paper on mcdonald's food

At 2,500 square meters, or about 26,909 square feet, Moscow's first McDonald's was one of the largest ever built when it opened in 1990.

Some people were ordering in person at the counters.

research paper on mcdonald's food

But the location also had at least eight double-sided ordering kiosks.

research paper on mcdonald's food

Many of the customers appeared to be young people and teens.

I can't read the Cyrillic alphabet, so the main menu behind the counter wasn't particularly helpful to me.

research paper on mcdonald's food

I did see illustrated items like coffee, tea, smoothies, McFlurries, and donuts.

I made my way over to an ordering kiosk and was relieved to see it could be operated in English and several other languages.

research paper on mcdonald's food

I don't read or speak any Russian.

I browsed through the menu to see what a Russian McDonald's might have that a US location wouldn't.

research paper on mcdonald's food

I was secretly hoping to see some menu items made with stereotypical Russian foods, like a caviar burger or vodka-spiked McFlurries.

Instead, I was surprised to see a "Tastes of Italy" section that I've never seen in the US, which included a Tuscan panini, an "Italian Pie" that resembled a Hot Pocket, and something called a Mojito Italiano. McDonald's in Russia doesn't sell alcohol as it does in some countries like France, Germany, and South Korea.

The Moscow McDonald's had more seafood options than I was expecting.

research paper on mcdonald's food

In addition to the classic Filet-O-Fish sandwich, the menu included fried shrimp, a shrimp roll, and a fish roll.

When I got back to the US, I popped into a McDonald's across the street from my office in New York City and saw that it offered only the Filet-O-Fish, no shrimp or fish rolls. 

Ultimately, I decided to go with a classic: the Big Mac.

research paper on mcdonald's food

With fries and a Coke, of course.

I reviewed my order: a Big Mac McCombo, fries with sweet sauce (I'm not a fan of Ketchup), and a Coke. The total came out to 204 rubles, or about $3.22.

research paper on mcdonald's food

At the McDonald's across the street from my office in New York, the same meal cost $9.79.

After I paid with my credit card at the kiosk, the machine printed out my receipt, which had the number 857 on it.

research paper on mcdonald's food

I went to look for the pick-up spot.

I spotted a screen toward the end of the counter that was displaying order numbers.

research paper on mcdonald's food

I walked up to the counter and saw that my order was ready before my number was even displayed — less than a minute after I'd paid for it. 

I was impressed by the speed and efficiency of the whole process, as I'm used to a more hectic scene in American McDonald's locations. The contrast was even more clear after I visited the McDonald's by my office, where there are no ordering kiosks and an employee had to direct the customers to the next available cashier. 

I headed up to the second level of the restaurant, where there were plenty of seats to choose from.

research paper on mcdonald's food

The first thing I ate was a French fry, which was piping hot and perfectly salty. 

I wasn't too impressed by the look of the Big Mac when I first opened it.

research paper on mcdonald's food

But upon biting into it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was hot, flavorful, and more fresh-tasting than a typical Big Mac. At McDonald's locations in the US, I enjoy the fries, but I usually find the burgers to be a bit tasteless. 

The Russian Big Mac seemed to have the same ingredients as its American counterpart — two beef patties, American cheese, lettuce, onions, pickles, and the signature Big Mac sauce — but it just tasted better . 

Like in the US, the Moscow McDonald's offered free WiFi.

research paper on mcdonald's food

In Russia, you connect to WiFi by requesting a code, which is texted to your phone and which you then have to enter to use the network.

As I was eating, I looked around and was again struck by how clean the McDonald's was, despite the high number of customers.

research paper on mcdonald's food

In many US McDonald's locations I've been to, especially the larger ones, you often have to move aside discarded trays with food remains and wipe up smears of Ketchup before sitting down at a table.

But in Moscow, I saw an employee come over and clear away a man's tray mere seconds after he'd finished eating.

I didn't take a photo in the bathrooms, but I will say that, too, they were noticeably clean and didn't require a code to enter like in some American locations do.

Attached to the McDonald's was a McCafé with its own separate entrance.

research paper on mcdonald's food

It was a hot day, and many people were buying ice cream. The café also sells coffee drinks and baked goods. 

Outside, Moscow's first McDonald's has a spacious seating area.

research paper on mcdonald's food

It, too, was clean and well-maintained. 

The outdoor seating area overlooks a beautiful little park across the street with trees, flowers, and a fountain.

research paper on mcdonald's food

From this McDonald's, it's about a 30-minute walk or a 15-minute metro ride to Red Square.

In the US, I tend to avoid eating at McDonald's because it's usually a bit hectic, not too clean, and I don't find the food particularly tasty.

research paper on mcdonald's food

But in Moscow, the food, the ordering process, and the space in general were all at a higher level than I'm used to at American McDonald's. In short, I would definitely eat there again.

research paper on mcdonald's food

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  • Published: 14 March 2024

Python farming as a flexible and efficient form of agricultural food security

  • D. Natusch   ORCID: 1   na1 ,
  • P. W. Aust   ORCID: 2 , 3   na1 ,
  • C. Caraguel 4 ,
  • P. L. Taggart   ORCID: 4 ,
  • V. T. Ngo 5 ,
  • G. J. Alexander   ORCID: 3 ,
  • R. Shine   ORCID: 1 &
  • T. Coulson 2  

Scientific Reports volume  14 , Article number:  5419 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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  • Animal physiology
  • Herpetology

Diminishing natural resources and increasing climatic volatility are impacting agri-food systems, prompting the need for sustainable and resilient alternatives. Python farming is well established in Asia but has received little attention from mainstream agricultural scientists. We measured growth rates in two species of large pythons ( Malayopython reticulatus and Python bivittatus ) in farms in Thailand and Vietnam and conducted feeding experiments to examine production efficiencies. Pythons grew rapidly over a 12-month period, and females grew faster than males. Food intake and growth rates early in life were strong predictors of total lifetime growth, with daily mass increments ranging from 0.24 to 19.7 g/day for M. reticulatus and 0.24 to 42.6 g/day for P. bivittatus , depending on food intake. Pythons that fasted for up to 4.2 months lost an average of 0.004% of their body mass per day, and resumed rapid growth as soon as feeding recommenced. Mean food conversion rate for dressed carcasses was 4.1%, with useable products (dressed carcass, skin, fat, gall bladder) comprising 82% of the mass of live animals. In terms of food and protein conversion ratios, pythons outperform all mainstream agricultural species studied to date. The ability of fasting pythons to regulate metabolic processes and maintain body condition enhances food security in volatile environments, suggesting that python farming may offer a flexible and efficient response to global food insecurity.

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The raising of livestock is a cornerstone of human civilization, has underpinned the rise of global economies, and continues to play a central role in the well-being of people in many cultures 1 , 2 , 3 . Livestock production traditionally has relied on a small number of domesticated species and production models—a little-changed formula that until now has served humanity well 2 . A central characteristic of conventional livestock systems has been a high rate of production, driven by energy intensive endothermic (warm-blooded) animals 2 , 4 . High performance endothermic physiologies generating nutrient-dense food, and cheap horsepower in the form of draft animals were important enablers for early civilisations 2 . Essential feed inputs were sustained by primary productivity, and livestock systems often developed within a context of resource abundance and stability 5 , 6 . These parameters are now no longer the norm, and the twin challenges of resource limitations and climate volatility are rapidly changing the production imperatives of our food systems 7 , 8 , 9 .

Conventional livestock and plant crop systems are faltering. Twelve percent of the global human population is undernourished and acute protein deficiency in low-income countries is compromising workforce productivity and development 10 , 11 , 12 . Global food security is predicted to worsen with global change 10 . Infectious diseases, diminishing natural resources, and climate change are having significant and compounding impacts on the agricultural sector 13 , 14 , 15 . Many conventional livestock systems fail to satisfy the criteria for sustainability and/or resilience, and there is an urgent need to explore alternatives 13 .

Ectotherms (cold-blooded animals) are approximately 90% more energy efficient than endotherms 16 . In the context of agriculture, this energy differential readily translates into a potential for higher production efficiency 17 , 18 . It is partly for this reason that the aquaculture and insect farming industries are currently experiencing rapid growth rates 17 , 19 . Like insects, snakes are a traditional source of protein in many tropical countries 20 , 21 , and their consumption is linked to important food, medicinal, and cultural values 22 , 23 , 24 . As demand for snake meat and co-products has increased in line with development, so too have production systems. Over the last two decades, snake farming has expanded to include more species, production models, and markets, partly as a result of competitive agricultural advantages 20 . For example, some snake production systems require minimal land and freshwater, they can rely on waste protein from other industries, and some snake species have specialised adaptations for mitigating the impacts of environmental shocks 20 , 25 , 26 , 27 . Another reason for recent expansion is appeal. Reptile meat is not unlike chicken: high in protein, low in saturated fats, and with widespread aesthetic and culinary appeal 22 , 28 , 29 , 30 .

We examined the potential of pythons as a novel form of livestock for commercial agriculture. To achieve this aim, we studied the growth patterns of two python species in two commercial farms in Southeast Asia. We assessed growth rates of juvenile snakes and conducted feeding experiments on a subset of the snakes to assess production efficiencies and key variables influencing growth. We compared the data gathered during our study to the results of research on other agricultural species (both endothermic and ectothermic) to assess the potential of commercial pythonfarming to enhance food security in the context of global change.

Materials and methods

We collected data from two Asian python farms within the natural range of the model species used in this study: one in Uttaradit Province, central Thailand (17° 38′ N, 100° 07′ E) and the other in Ho Chi Minh City, in southern Vietnam (10°58'N, 106°30'E). The farm in Thailand farms both reticulated ( Malayopython reticulatus ) and Burmese ( Python bivittatus ) pythons, whereas the Vietnamese farm produces only the latter. Both Burmese and reticulated pythons are large-bodied (can grow to > 100 kg), fast growing , and highly fecund, with females reaching maturity within 3 years and producing up to 100 eggs per year for 20 years or more 31 . They are thus well suited for commercial production.

In both Thailand and Vietnam, pythons are housed in enclosures situated within warehouses. The warehouses are constructed and managed in a semi-open fashion to facilitate ventilation and provide optimal temperatures. We did not record the temperature of pythons or their enclosures during this study, but temperatures anecdotally varied between 25 and 32 °C. Pythons were housed communally at stocking densities of approximately 15 kg per m 2 . Captive-bred pythons in Thailand and Vietnam were fed on a variety of food types depending on local protein resources. The most common feed inputs were wild-caught rodents and waste protein from agri-food supply chains (e.g., pork, chicken, fish 20 , 32 ). Many of the larger python farms make sausages from processed waste protein. Sausages are typically introduced into the diet only after the young pythons have developed a robust feeding response 32 .

Trials of growth rate

To quantify growth rates and related attributes, individual pythons were repeatedly measured over a 12-month period. Most pythons are grown for 1 to 1.5 years before slaughter for meat, skins, and other products 32 . At each farm we collected hatchling pythons from eggs produced and hatched onsite. To identify individual snakes, we either maintained a photographic database of the skin patterns on a dorsolateral section of skin immediately posterior to the head, or implanted snakes with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags 33 .

In Thailand, we measured snout-vent length (hereafter, SVL; using a flexible measuring tape run along the spine of each snake) and body mass (to the nearest g) of pythons on three occasions over the 12-month growing period: (1) at hatching, (2) at six months of age, and (3) at 12 months of age. We sexed snakes by inserting a lubricated probe into the cloacal bursae and recording depth. Pythons were each offered a frozen-thawed day-old chicken to eat once per week for the first two months. From two to 12 months pythons were offered a combination of frozen-thawed day-old chickens and sausages on a weekly basis (Table 1 ). The mass of food offered was not measured but was estimated to be less than 15% of the snakes’ bodyweight per feeding event.

In Vietnam, we measured SVL and body mass of pythons at six intervals over a 12-month period (approximately 0, 2, 4, 7, 9, and 12 months of age) and sexed snakes at hatching by eversion of the hemipenes. Non-hatchling pythons were fed pork-based sausages or experimental diets (see below; Table 1 ). Feeding regimes followed farm protocols for maximum growth rates (food equal to ~ 15% of body mass provided once every 5 days). Hatchlings were started on vertebrate prey (i.e., rodents, day-old quail, or day-old chickens). Apart from one of the experimental groups, the diet of all snakes in treatment groups was changed to sausages at approximately two months of age.

Intensive trials on growth rate

To quantify the influence of food intake on growth rates of pythons and to better quantify food-conversion efficiencies, we conducted a detailed feeding trial on a subset of Burmese pythons at the Vietnamese farm. When python eggs hatched, we divided snakes into five experimental groups, each comprising seven males and seven females (14 snakes total per treatment); we used systematic random allocation to distribute individuals among treatment groups (to deconfound treatments from maternal effects). Diet treatments included: (1) 100% pork; (2) 90% pork, 10% chicken pellets; (3) 90% pork, 10% fish pellets; (4) 80% pork, 20% fish pellets; and (5) 100% wild-caught rodents. We chose these diet treatments because they reflected those currently used in the python farming industry 20 , 32 . Rodents were sourced from local rice fields via professional trappers 20 and humanely euthanized immediately prior to being fed to the pythons. The pork used in the sausages comprised of still-born piglets obtained from local farms, defrosted in vats of water then ground in an industrial meat grinder. The dry pellets used were commercial catfish and chicken grower pellets (31% and 16% protein, respectively) made predominantly from processed anchovies and rice-bran (Ha Lan Aquafeed, Viet Nam). The dry pellets were added to the pork immediately after grinding to facilitate rehydration. The homogenised paste was reconstituted into appropriately sized sausages using a commercial sausage-making machine.

Pythons were offered food approximately once every five days throughout the year, except for three months over the coldest period of the year when they were offered food less often. At each feeding event, we weighed each sausage before one or more was offered to the pythons. Food was offered using forceps and snakes were never force-fed. We recorded whenever snakes refused food. After feeding, pythons were weighed to calculate the pre-feeding body mass of each snake. This procedure allowed us to not disturb the pythons before feeding, ensuring a natural feeding response. We did not measure SVL due to the potential impact of handling stress on feeding behaviour. All study animals were provided drinking water ad libitum .

During the growth trials in Vietnam, we recorded the length of time pythons went without food to examine the influence of fasting on growth and mass loss. Depending on prey size, pythons typically digest meals within two weeks (range = 4–13 days 34 ). To eliminate the influence of energy derived from previous food consumption we only considered pythons to be fasting if they had gone without food for at least 20 consecutive days. We used body mass measurements derived from feeding records before versus after fasting to calculate total mass lost during the fasting event. We divided total mass lost during the fasting event by the duration of each event to calculate mean mass loss per day.

Carcass processing

At the completion of the intensive growth trials, pythons were humanely killed using standard procedures (i.e., captive bolt pistol 35 ) and processed to record carcass characteristics. We dissected and weighed parts of the snake that are of commercial value, including the fat, gall bladder, skin, and dressed carcass (excluding head, tail, visceral organs and skin). We weighed the remaining organs and tissues to calculate the percentage of each item relative to total body mass. Finally, we calculated food conversion ratios (FCR) by dividing the total amount of food consumed by the mass of the dressed carcass.

Analysis of data

Because commercially valuable products from pythons are sold by mass, we mostly report rates of growth in body mass; however, in Fig.  1 and Table 2 we also provide growth rates as changes in SVL. Body mass in snakes is strongly correlated with SVL 36 . To assist with visualisation, we plotted variation in growth rates of individual pythons by presenting the growth rates of the 1 st , 25 th , 50 th , 75 th , and 99 th growth percentiles for pythons in each treatment. However, for our analysis we used the mean rate of growth from hatching to slaughter. We examined the influence of farm site and sex on growth rates for each python species in our non-intensive growth trials (separately) using a two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) with sex and site (and their interaction) as factors, and growth rate over 12 months as the dependent variable.

figure 1

Change in snout-vent length (SVL) over time of ( a ) Burmese pythons in Vietnam, ( b ) reticulated pythons in Thailand, and ( c ) Burmese pythons in Thailand over a 12-month period. Solid lines show calculated averages (50th percentile) whereas dotted lines show other percentile values.

To explore the factors influencing variability in growth rates of Burmese pythons in our intensive trial, we modelled mean 12-month growth rate against five attributes of the pythons and their husbandry (ln mass at birth, diet, ln 2-month growth rate, total amount of food consumed, and days spent fasting) in a multiple regression. We used a model selection approach to rank all possible models (and two-way interaction terms) based on AIC c values 37 . We applied a one-way ANOVA with food type as the factor and growth rate over 12 months as the dependent variable to explore the potential influence of food type on rate of growth.

In some cases, our fasting dataset contained pythons that underwent multiple fasting events. We tested for differences in the likelihood of fasting between diet treatments using contingency table analysis. To account for pseudoreplication and the influence of individual-specific growth rates in our analysis, we analysed the influence of fasting duration, and the influence of mass prior to fasting, on the rate of loss of body mass using a generalized linear mixed model incorporating individual python ID as a random effect. We ln-transformed our data wherever necessary to meet the normality and homogeneity of variance assumptions required for our statistical tests, and conducted all analyses in JMP Pro 14 (SAS Institute: Cary, NC).

Ethics statement

We stress that no snakes were harmed for the purpose of our study; we utilised existing farm operations and trade. Our data were gathered from snakes bred for a commercial industry, which employs humane methods of killing reptiles (by brain destruction 38 ). All work was carried out with relevant permissions from the farm owners and authorities (Administration of Forestry of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam 114/TCLN-CTVN). All procedures were approved by the Animal Ethics Screening Committee of the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa (approval number: 2014/17/B), the University of Adelaide, Australia (approval number: S-2018-084), were consistent with ARRIVE guidelines 39 , and all methods were performed in accordance with the relevant guidelines and regulations.

Growth rates

Both species of python grew rapidly at both farms (up to a maximum of 46 g/day; Tables 2 ,  S1 ; Figs. 1 , 2 ). Our ANOVA revealed that growth rates of Burmese pythons were slower at the Thai farm than at the Vietnamese farm (F 1,2591  = 1005, P  < 0.0001; Table 2 ) and females grew more rapidly than males at both farms (F 1,2591  = 8.97, P  < 0.0028; Table 2 ). Sex differences in growth did not vary between farms (interaction sex*site: F 1,2591  = 2.01, P  = 0.1559). At the Thai farm where both species were raised and husbandry and feeding procedures were similar, reticulated pythons grew faster than Burmese pythons held in the same facility (F 1,4526  = 124, P  < 0.0001) but still slower than Burmese pythons in Vietnam (Table 2 ; Fig.  2 ).

figure 2

Change in body mass over time of ( a ) Burmese pythons in Vietnam in intensive trials, ( b ) Burmese pythons in Vietnam in rapid growth trials, ( c ) reticulated pythons in Thailand, and ( d ) Burmese pythons in Thailand. All data were gathered over a 12-month period. Solid lines show calculated averages (50th percentile) whereas dotted lines show other percentile values.

Our most parsimonious model included growth rates over the first two months of life and the amount of food consumed (Fig.  3 ). Pythons that grew fastest in their first two months of life, and which consumed the most food, grew the fastest over the 12-month period (Figs. 1 , 2 , 3 ). The model with the best support that included only a single predictive variable included the amount of food consumed, confirming that food intake is the primary determinant of python growth rates (Fig.  3 ). A follow-up ANOVA with food type as the factor and ln 12-month growth rate as the dependent variable confirmed that the different food types provided as part of our experimental trials (Table S1 ) did not significantly influence growth rates in Burmese pythons (although this difference was close to statistical significance: F 4,54  = 2.50, P  = 0.054).

figure 3

Relationship between growth rate over the first 12 months of life in captive Burmese pythons, and two significant predictors of that long term rate of growth: ( a ) growth rate over the first two months of life, and ( b ) total amount of food consumed over 12 months. See text for results of statistical significance tests.

Influence of fasting

Over the course of our intensive growth study, 61% (43/70) of Burmese pythons fasted for periods of 20 days or more (up to 127 days). Some pythons fasted multiple times throughout the study, for a maximum fasting duration of 228 days. Fasting was recorded in pythons from all diet regimes and although the proportion of pythons fasting was higher in animals fed on the two diets containing fishmeal, contingency-table analysis confirmed that the difference was not statistically significant (χ 2 4  = 5.7, P  = 0.23). Mean daily mass loss during episodes of fasting was 0.16 ± 0.7 g per day. When calculated as a percentage of body mass prior to the fasting event, pythons lost an average of 0.004 ± 0.03% of their body mass per day. Some snakes gained body mass while fasting (likely due to drinking), and our mixed effects model showed no significant correlation between the rate of mass loss (or gain) and the duration of time spent fasting (F 1,72  = 1.89, P  = 0.174). Our mixed effects model also confirmed that larger pythons fasted for longer durations than did smaller conspecifics (F 1,72  = 9.08, P  = 0.0037). Although fasting did not result in a significant loss of body mass, it did reduce the total amount of food consumed, which significantly reduced overall growth rates.

Food conversion ratios and useable products

Mean food conversion ratio for the 58 snakes followed throughout their lives was 4.1: 1 (4.1 ± 0.06 g; range 3.15–4.85). That is, pythons consumed an average of 4.1 g of food for every 1 g of dressed carcass produced. The mass of commercially valuable body parts obtained from each snake increased with the mass of the animal (and hence, with its growth rate; all correlations have P  < 0.0001). After removal of non-useable organs, useable parts of the snake (including dressed carcass, gall bladder, fat, and skin) averaged 82 ± 0.8% (range: 69–90%) of overall snake mass (Table 3 ).

An extensive literature documents fast growth rates for pythons, and our experimental trials confirm that pythons can grow very rapidly over their first year of life. Despite this ability, pythons have been overlooked as a mainstream agricultural species 40 . Instead, concerns have been raised that commercial production of these snakes in captivity is not feasible and that Asian farms are simply laundering wild-caught snakes under the guise of being captive-bred 41 , 42 . We have no data to support or refute the latter claim, but our studies confirm earlier work that it is biologically and economically feasible to breed and raise pythons in captive production facilities for commercial trade 32 . We first discuss the significance and limitations of our results before turning our attention to the assessment of pythons as a novel livestock species for commercial agriculture.

Growth rates in both python species that we assessed were highly plastic and were strongly influenced by the amount of food consumed. Although fasting resulted in slower growth, variation in growth rates was best explained by overall food intake rates; that is, fasting pythons grow slower due to reduced food intake, but there did not appear to be any additional growth cost to fasting per se. In keeping with other studies on snakes, body mass at hatching did not influence growth rates. Instead, a snake’s growth trajectory over the first two months of its life predicted its subsequent growth rate and hence its body size later in life 43 .

Females of both species grew faster than males. Although female-biased growth rates are common in snakes, growth rates in pythons do not typically diverge until after reaching maturity 44 , 45 . We detected sexual divergence in growth rates well before maturation, suggesting that sex-based divergences in growth rate divergence are subtle and may only be detectable with large sample sizes such as those used in our study.

Pythons grew faster in the Vietnamese farm than in the Thai farm, likely due to a more frequent feeding regime. Although reticulated pythons grew faster than Burmese pythons in the Thai facility, where both species are maintained, we are reluctant to conclude that this species exhibits faster overall growth rates in the wild, or that the growth potential of the reticulated python exceeds that of the Burmese python. Growth rates are very flexible and driven primarily by food consumption. Burmese pythons in both trials in Vietnam had faster growth rates than did Thai reticulated pythons, and overall snakes in Thailand were offered less food than their Vietnamese conspecifics.

Why were the costs of fasting (in terms of mass loss) so low? Pythons have specialised physiological and morphological responses to both feeding and fasting 46 , 47 , 48 . The gastrointestinal tract is adapted for long periods of quiescence punctuated by rapid metabolic upregulation for digestion and assimilation of large meals (sometimes, > 100% of body mass 49 ). During digestion, pythons exhibit a tenfold increase in metabolic rate above resting levels; organ performance increases up to 40-fold; and circulating hormones and metabolites increase by as much as a 100-fold 46 , 47 , 48 . After digestion is completed, the process is reversed and metabolic functions are rapidly downregulated. Ingested macronutrients are partitioned and selectively oxidised in preparation for fasting 50 . Lipids are stored in specialised fat bodies and leveraged during fasting to fuel atrophic energy requirements 50 , 51 . Our study provides further evidence for these remarkable physiological processes and identifies their utilitarian potential in an agricultural context.

We now turn our attention to the agricultural potential of pythons as it relates to the biology of these snakes. As large-bodied, fast-growing ectotherms with flexible digestive physiologies, our study confirms that pythons have considerable agricultural potential. The pythons in our study were capable of high food conversion ratios and rapid growth rates, and can tolerate long periods of fasting without substantial loss of mass. The dietary treatments that we offered did not significantly influence growth rates of the snakes, suggesting that pythons exhibit efficient protein conversion ratios under a range of dietary and production scenarios. Our findings support previous studies highlighting the role of snake farms in facilitating efforts to control rodent pests, and in upcycling waste-protein resources to close nutrient cycle loops 20 , 21 , 32 , 52 .

Pythons are obligate carnivores, and thus belong to a trophic level (predators) that classical Lindeman trophic pyramids would regard as poorly suited to farming: that is, inefficient and environmentally unsustainable 53 , 54 . Our results suggest otherwise. Table 4 provides a comparison of some key production criteria in livestock systems. Production efficiencies for pythons were higher than those reported for poultry, pork, beef, salmon, and crickets (Table 4 ). This remarkable outcome reflects the synergistic effects of ectothermic physiology 16 , sessile behaviour 55 , efficient digestive physiology 56 , and economic serpentine morphology (e.g., no legs or wings ~ higher edible carcass ratio). High assimilation efficiencies also translate into low volumes of faeces, and the nitrogenous wastes that pythons produce are excreted as water-insoluble urates rather than more volatile urea 57 . Python farms, therefore, produce fewer greenhouse gasses (CO 2 , methane and nitrous oxide) than do endothermic livestock systems 58 , 59 .

One caveat to the rapid growth rates reported here is that in one of our diet treatments (Burmese pythons in Vietnam), a significant proportion (~ 20%) of pythons died due to respiratory infections. Similar growth rates of pythons from a different treatment at the same farm, and from Thailand, did not result in such high mortalities (< 5%). It is not known what caused such a high incidence of respiratory infection in one year, but the experimental diet (e.g., possible micronutrient deficiencies) coupled with unseasonably cool weather may be contributing factors.

The ability of pythons to fast for extended periods without jeopardizing survival or body condition is remarkable. For example, five 6-month-old pythons ceased feeding for four months (approximately 45% of their lives) but only lost 30 to 70 g (2.7–5.4% of their pre-fasting body mass) over that period. Few other animals can downregulate metabolic costs to this degree, and species utilized by the mainstream agricultural industry certainly cannot do so (Table 4 ). That ability of pythons to maintain near-stasis in body mass over prolonged periods of food deprivation confers great flexibility for producers. Food systems resilience is closely linked to disruptions in supply chains and famine tolerance 15 , 71 . Pandemics and extreme weather events coupled with the inability of livestock to retain body condition in the absence of reliable feed supplies present increasing risks to food security. Pythons offer farmers the flexibility needed to regulate both feed inputs and product outputs in response to unpredictable external factors.

In addition to flexibility in feeding regimes and rapid growth rates, the natural history of at least some species of pythons is characterised by early maturity and high reproductive output 31 , 72 . Most species are ecological generalists, exploiting both above- and below-ground habitat niches to evade extreme weather events 27 , 55 , 73 , 74 . They can survive without fresh water for extended periods 25 , 75 , and in captivity they have undemanding spatial requirements, especially since they are ambush foragers with highly sedentary lifestyles that co-exist amicably in communal aggregations 32 , 76 . They display few of the complex animal welfare issues commonly seen in caged birds and mammals 77 , 78 . Reptiles also seldom transmit endotherm-centric zoonotic viruses such as bird flu, swine flu or Covid-19 79 , 80 .

Despite their impressive physiologies, the hands-on production of pythons differs in several important ways to mainstream livestock. For example, feeding pythons can be labour-intensive because of the current necessity to remove them from their enclosures for individual feeding (to prevent agonistic encounters with conspecifics over food). However, this labour cost may be offset against the need to only feed pythons once per week. Technical expertise and capacity is another barrier to realising the agricultural potential of pythons. The biology and husbandry requirements of pythons are poorly understood relative to many endothermic taxa. Coupled with the general fear humans have towards snakes, it may be some time before the agricultural potential of pythons is realised at the global scale.

Commercial production of pythons is in its infancy, with farms receiving minimal scientific input or optimisation through formal channels for agricultural development. Even in its current relatively crude format, python farming appears to offer tangible benefits for sustainability and food systems resilience. Our study suggests that python farming can not only complement existing livestock systems, but may offer better returns in terms of production efficiencies. When compared to existing endotherm-based livestock industries, pythons are more efficient mass producers of animal protein. In countries with a cultural precedent for eating reptiles, and where food security is increasingly compromised through the impacts of global challenges such as climate change, reptiles offer an efficient, safe, and flexible source of protein. To exploit that potential, we urgently need more research into the agricultural potential of reptiles, and the most effective and humane ways to produce this novel group of livestock animals.

Data availability

The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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We thank Cao Tran Thinh, Cao Tran Tung, and Emilio and Liceno Malucchi for allowing us to use their python breeding facilities and specimens for our research. Thanks to Tomas Waller for assistance in collecting data from captive pythons. This study was undertaken with the support of the Python Conservation Partnership, the University of Witwatersrand Research Council, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York through the Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute.

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These authors contributed equally: D. Natusch and P. W. Aust.

Authors and Affiliations

School of Natural Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, 2109, Australia

D. Natusch & R. Shine

Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

P. W. Aust & T. Coulson

Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

P. W. Aust & G. J. Alexander

School of Animal & Veterinary Science, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA, 5371, Australia

C. Caraguel & P. L. Taggart

National Key Laboratory, Institute of Tropical Biology, Vietnamese Academy of Sciences and Technology, 9/621 Hanoi Highway, Thu Duc City, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

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D.N. and P.A. defined the concept, D.N., P.A., V.T., C.C., and P.T. collected the data; all authors wrote the manuscript.

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None of the authors are involved in the meat industry, but this research took place on existing commercial snake farms. This work was partly funded by an initiative working to better understand snakes used in the leather trade, which is itself partially funded by companies that use snake skins. Funders had no influence at any stage of this research.

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Natusch, D., Aust, P.W., Caraguel, C. et al. Python farming as a flexible and efficient form of agricultural food security. Sci Rep 14 , 5419 (2024).

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research paper on mcdonald's food

Intermittent fasting linked to higher risk of cardiovascular death, research suggests

Intermittent fasting, a diet pattern that involves alternating between periods of fasting and eating, can lower blood pressure and help some people lose weight , past research has indicated.

But an analysis presented Monday at the American Heart Association’s scientific sessions in Chicago challenges the notion that intermittent fasting is good for heart health. Instead, researchers from Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine in China found that people who restricted food consumption to less than eight hours per day had a 91% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease over a median period of eight years, relative to people who ate across 12 to 16 hours.

It’s some of the first research investigating the association between time-restricted eating (a type of intermittent fasting) and the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

The analysis — which has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in an academic journal — is based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey collected between 2003 and 2018. The researchers analyzed responses from around 20,000 adults who recorded what they ate for at least two days, then looked at who had died from cardiovascular disease after a median follow-up period of eight years.

However, Victor Wenze Zhong, a co-author of the analysis, said it’s too early to make specific recommendations about intermittent fasting based on his research alone.

“Practicing intermittent fasting for a short period such as 3 months may likely lead to benefits on reducing weight and improving cardiometabolic health,” Zhong said via email. But he added that people “should be extremely cautious” about intermittent fasting for longer periods of time, such as years.

Intermittent fasting regimens vary widely. A common schedule is to restrict eating to a period of six to eight hours per day, which can lead people to consume fewer calories, though some eat the same amount in a shorter time. Another popular schedule is the "5:2 diet," which involves eating 500 to 600 calories on two nonconsecutive days of the week but eating normally for the other five.

A fixed rhythm for meals helps against unwanted kilos on the scales.

Zhong said it’s not clear why his research found an association between time-restricted eating and a risk of death from cardiovascular disease. He offered an observation, though: People who limited their eating to fewer than eight hours per day had less lean muscle mass than those who ate for 12 to 16 hours. Low lean muscle mass has been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular death .

Cardiovascular and nutrition experts who were not involved in the analysis offered several theories about what might explain the results.

Dr. Benjamin Horne, a research professor at Intermountain Health in Salt Lake City, said fasting can increase stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, since the body doesn’t know when to expect food next and goes into survival mode. That added stress may raise the short-term risk of heart problems among vulnerable groups, he said, particularly elderly people or those with chronic health conditions.

Horne’s research has shown that fasting twice a week for four weeks, then once a week for 22 weeks may increase a person’s risk of dying after one year but decrease their 10-year risk of chronic disease.

“In the long term, what it does is reduces those risk factors for heart disease and reduces the risk factors for diabetes and so forth — but in the short term, while you’re actually doing it, your body is in a state where it’s at a higher risk of having problems,” he said.

Even so, Horne added, the analysis “doesn’t change my perspective that there are definite benefits from fasting, but it’s a cautionary tale that we need to be aware that there are definite, potentially major, adverse effects.” 

Intermittent fasting gained popularity about a decade ago, when the 5:2 diet was touted as a weight loss strategy in the U.K. In the years to follow, several celebrities espoused the benefits of an eight-hour eating window for weight loss, while some Silicon Valley tech workers believed that extreme periods of fasting boosted productivity . Some studies have also suggested that intermittent fasting might help extend people’s lifespans by warding off disease .

However, a lot of early research on intermittent fasting involved animals. In the last seven years or so, various clinical trials have investigated potential benefits for humans, including for heart health.

“The purpose of intermittent fasting is to cut calories, lose weight,” said Penny Kris-Etherton, emeritus professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State University and a member of the American Heart Association nutrition committee. “It’s really how intermittent fasting is implemented that’s going to explain a lot of the benefits or adverse associations.”

Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic, said the timing of when people eat may influence the effects they see. 

“I haven’t met a single person or patient that has been practicing intermittent fasting by skipping dinner,” he said, noting that people more often skip breakfast, a schedule associated with an increased risk of heart disease and death .

The new research comes with limitations: It relies on people’s memories of what they consumed over a 24-hour period and doesn’t consider the nutritional quality of the food they ate or how many calories they consumed during an eating window.

So some experts found the analysis too narrow.

“It’s a retrospective study looking at two days’ worth of data, and drawing some very big conclusions from a very limited snapshot into a person’s lifestyle habits,” said Dr. Pam Taub, a cardiologist at UC San Diego Health.

Taub said her patients have seen “incredible benefits” from fasting regimens.

“I would continue doing it,” she said. “For people that do intermittent fasting, their individual results speak for themselves. Most people that do intermittent fasting, the reason they continue it is they see a decrease in their weight. They see a decrease in blood pressure. They see an improvement in their LDL cholesterol.” 

Kris-Etherton, however, urged caution: “Maybe consider a pause in intermittent fasting until we have more information or until the results of the study can be better explained,” she said.

research paper on mcdonald's food

Aria Bendix is the breaking health reporter for NBC News Digital.

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