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Fast Food and Obesity Essay

Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once wrote, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are” (“You are what you eat”). More than one-third of American adults and approximately 17 % of children aged between 2 and 19 years old are obese (“U. S. Obesity Trends”). Obesity is defined as a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated, leading to an increase in health problems, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and liver damage (“Obesity”). There are many causes of obesity, the most important being lack of exercise and poor eating habits that can result in too much saturated fat in people’s diet.

These saturated fats are commonly found in fast food meals. There has been a great deal of debate and publicity surrounding the impact of “fast food” on people’s diet and the adverse effects it may have. The term “fast food” refers typically to low nutritional value and low quality food served in chain restaurants. But to what extent should fast food be blamed for being the cause of obesity in America? The subject needs to be examined from two perspectives: should fast food be blamed as the sole cause of obesity or should it be merely seen as a contributing factor and not the root cause?

Fast food should be blamed for being the cause of obesity for a number of reasons. Firstly, the ingredients in fast food are extremely fattening and cause health problems. These fast food meals are mainly composed of sugar, fats and processed foods. A key ingredient that could be a severe problem to our health is monosodium glutamate, (MSG). MSG can chemically alter the body’s metabolism in a way that can lead to food addiction and intense hunger, which can result in binge eating.

Fast food meals also contain artificial sweeteners, which people consume, believing that they contain no calories but perhaps unaware that the body metabolizes them as sugar. All the meat found in these meals is processed, containing MSG, sugar, hormones, artificial flavours and a host of other chemical additives (“Addictive Ingredients in Fast Food”). The reason that some of the ingredients should lead to fast food being blamed for being the cause of obesity is that some of the ingredients have a direct link to obesity.

For example, a high level of carbohydrates raises the sugar level in the blood, which causes the liver to produce more insulin, which increases amount of fat deposits in the body (“Fast Food Statistics. “). A high amount of calories in fast food meals is also a possible cause of obesity. A child who eats a double cheeseburger, a large order of fries, a large coke and a small vanilla shake in McDonald’s, will have eaten 1760 calories and 63 grams of fat. (“Fast Food Effects on Childhood Obesity by Terry Schierer. ”).

The recommended daily intake for a grown adult is 2000 calories a day; therefore in one meal the child has had almost the entire adult daily intake of calories (“Fast Food Effects on Childhood Obesity by Terry Schierer. ”). Another way to show that the ingredients in fast food have a direct link to obesity is through statistics. If a child eats fast food meals 2 to 3 times each week, they are likely to put on an extra six pounds (3 kilos) every year (“Fast Food Effects on Childhood Obesity by Terry Schierer. ”).

In summary, the ingredients in fast food meals are shown to be a significant cause of obesity. Obesity in the US can also be directly attributed to the consumption of fast food through the advertising and marketing used to promote these products. In 2001 alone, the U. S. companies spent $3. 5 billion on fast food advertising – roughly a third of the entire budget spent on promotion in the food industry. Nearly $1 billion was spent in advertising the top five soda brands (“Food Advertising Leads to Obesity. “).

The U. S. ndustries have invested a great deal in the advertisement of these foods and most of this marketing is aimed at children, as Gary Ruskin states in his article The Fast Food Trap. He puts forward the view that “the rise of childhood obesity in America is part of a larger story: how corporations have laid claim to children’s imagination and play – to childhood itself” (Ruskin). Corporations get through to children through the media of television and films. The average American child watches 19 hours and 40 minutes of TV a week, during which they’re not active and are exposed to thousands of adverts (Ruskin).

The Federal Trade Commission stated in 1978 that “the largest part of the television advertising addressed specifically to children is for sugared foods” (Ruskin). Companies producing fast food companies have also used characters from children’s films to advertise their foods. For example, McDonald’s employed Disney characters such as Winnie-the-Pooh, Nemo, 101 Dalmatians and Tarzan to sell their Happy Meals (Ruskin). Additionally, Cindy Syracuse, Burger King’s manager for youth and family marketing, states, “Teletubbies was a great promo partner. Coca-Cola paid Warner Bros. $150 million for global marketing rights for the film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Ruskin).

When the movie ET featured ET eating Reese’s Pieces, sales shot up 65 % (Ruskin). Producers of fast food also target children in situations where parents are unable to control what they are exposed to, particularly at school. In 1989, Chris Wittle, the founder of Channel One, came up with the idea of harnessing the schools to show daily 12-minute TV broadcasts that included 2 minutes of ads (Ruskin). 2000 schools adopted the idea and soon, 8 million students were watching its ads for Pepsi, M&M’s, Snickers and the like (Ruskin). Then the companies got the idea of vending machines and now, nearly 19 out of 20 high schools and 60% of elementary schools have vending machines that sell sugared foods and drinks (Ruskin). Tom Harris, vice president of sales and marketing for the National Theatre for Children claims that “Fast-food companies, too, now have a big presence in the schools. It’s a great way for them to bypass parents and promote their high-fat products to children.

At least one out of every five schools now contains a fast-food outlet. ” (Ruskin). Fast food corporations are advertising any way they can, even through the American Academy of Paediatric Dentistry (AAPD), who received a $1 million contribution from the Coca-Cola Foundation (Ruskin). Michael Jacobson, the executive director of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest states “I’m surprised that AAPD is willing to be co-opted in this way, and for relatively little money in the scheme of things. The Academy’s leadership should resign. ” (Ruskin).

Therefore to conclude, as Gary Ruskin states “Television literally is an obesity machine – both because of what it shows and the way it affects children’s lives. It gives advertisers a way to walk through the front door and speak directly to children. ” (Ruskin). Finally, fast food can be singled out as a cause of obesity in the US because it is so widely available and affordable. The University of California, Berkeley, led a research project and concluded that if a fast food restaurant is within a tenth of a mile of a school, it increases the risk of obesity in ninth graders by 5. 2 % (“Fast Food Statistics and Obesity n America. “) .

In New York, there are 10 fast food restaurants in a 2-square-mile area and there are just under 16000 fast food restaurants in the U. S. alone (“Number of Fast Food Restaurants in America. “). The Washington Centre for Weight Management and Research found that people who assemble their meals using ingredients in XXL-size packaging end up preparing meals that are 23% larger than those who buy standard sizes (“Obesity Statistics. “). In terms of price, a meal in McDonald’s for a family of four costs $28, which compared to the $60 for a healthy meal is considerably cheaper (“Is Junk Food Really Cheaper? ).

To conclude, the number and proximity of the fast food restaurants in America, as well as the prices and the sizes have had a big impact on obesity in America. In conclusion, the combination of the number of fast food outlets, (and their proximity to their target customers), the size of the portions sold and the affordability of the meals themselves have had a significant impact on the levels of obesity in the US. Although fast food is a major contributing cause of obesity, it cannot be entirely blamed.

It is a person’s choice to eat in a fast food restaurant and therefore there is a large degree of personal responsibility involved. It is up to the individual to decide whether to exercise and lose the calories and fat they put on, or whether they choose to sit and watch television and continue eating convenient fast food. According to Buchholz, an economic adviser on the George H. W. Bush administration, consumers today have a wider choice of healthy fast-food options and therefore cannot blame fast-food restaurants if they are overweight because of the higher-fat products (Buchholz).

Depending on what you pile on it, a fast food burger may not enhance your health, and it may hinder your ability to run a marathon, but it is very easy to find out the ingredients in the burger you are eating, or the amount of calories in the large portion of fries you ordered (Buchholz). The fast food industries have been trying to give their costumers a choice. It is a mistake to stereotype fast food as simply a cheeseburger and a large fries. Fast food restaurants have vastly expanded their menus for a variety of reasons. For example, on the 10th March 2003,

McDonald’s introduced its premium salads that featured Newman’s Own All-Natural Dressings (Buchholz). During the 1990s, McDonald’s and Taco Bell invested millions of dollars trying to develop low-fat, commercially viable selections, such as the McLean Deluxe hamburger and Taco bell’s Border Lights. Burger King adopted its “Have It Your Way” slogan several decades ago (Buchholz). Another reason why fast food shouldn’t be entirely blamed for being the cause of obesity is because not all the additional calories being consumed by the population are from fast food restaurants.

On average, Americans are eating about 200 calories more each day than they did in the 1970s (Buchholz). It has been shown that Americans consume two-thirds of their calories at home (Buchholz). When a person goes food shopping, they are likely to open up a box of biscuits or candy and eat it while they go through the supermarket, which accounts for why consumers eat two to three time more sweetened food inside stores than at fast food restaurants (Buchholz).

The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) led a project knows as the “Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals” and discovered that Americans are not eating bigger breakfasts, lunches or dinners; they are merely snacking like never before. Between the 1970s and the 1990s, men and women’s calorie consumption between meals has gone from 160 to 240 calories (Buchholz). In 1987-88, Americans snacked less than once a day. By 1994, they were snacking 1. 6 times a day (Buchholz). Another reason why people are eating more than they did four decades ago is because the food is cheaper nowadays.

According to a survey led by USDA’s Economic Research Service, families spent 23. 5 % of their income on food in 1929. In 1961, they spent 17 % and in 2001, 10 % of their income was spent on food (Buchholz) In 1986, restaurant meals were 1. 82 times the cost of a store-bought meal and by 2001, restaurant meals were 1. 73 times as much. Higher incomes and lower restaurant prices have induced people to eat more, away from home (Buchholz). To summarize, consumers know that fast food is unhealthy and that they can find out what exactly they are eating.

They also have the choice to lose the weight they have put on because of these meals and it is up to them to take the responsibility for their actions. Fast food industries have also taken action and have provided healthier options for those who want them. Obesity is not only caused by the consumption fast food. There are many other contributing factors that can lead to being overweight. The first and most important factor compared to fast food consumption or diet generally, is lack of exercise.

According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, children should get a minimum of 60 minutes of exercise a day (“Obesity in the U. S. in Children Due to Lack of Exercise. “). In a survey of 10th graders in Washington in 2006, only 43 percent reached the suggested daily activity target (“Obesity in the U. S. in Children Due to Lack of Exercise. “). From 1991 to 2003, physical education and general activities during school time decreased by 14% (“Obesity in the U. S. in Children Due to Lack of Exercise. ). Additionally, only 28 % of high school students get the suggested daily amount of physical exercise (“Obesity in the U. S. in Children Due to Lack of Exercise. “). Teachers in a New York school say that the lack of equipment and inadequate training are the reasons for the lack of exercise (“Obesity in the U. S. in Children Due to Lack of Exercise. “). As well, children in the U. S. watch on average 19 hours and 40 minutes of television a week, during which they are not active (Ruskin).

Another contributing factor to high levels of obesity is air conditioning. When a person enters an environment that is either too hot or too cold, they have to burn calories to keep their body temperature constant. But when air conditioning is blasting into either their homes or workplaces keeping the temperature constant, they don’t need to burn the calories (“Study Suggests 10 New Obesity Causes. “). In fact, 9 out 10 homes in the U. S. now have central air conditioning (“”Losing Our Cool”: The High Price of Staying Cool. “).

Other less important factors such as lack of sleep, pollution, medicine and self-esteem are contributing causes of obesity. To summarize, although fast food is a major contributing factor to the high levels of obesity we see today, it is not the only cause. As this essay has stated, lack of exercise is an equally dominant factor. Fast food meals are not the only meals that contain ingredients which, consumed in excess, can lead to excessive weight gain. (It is true that the ingredients of fast food meals could be made healthier and the U. S. Government could do more to stop the companies from advertising to the children in schools where the parents have less control over what their children are exposed to).

There are plenty of food items in every household that have the same effect. The key point to note here is that, as with most things, moderation needs to be applied. Obesity is an all-consuming problem that costs the Americans $150 to $170 billion in annual medical costs (Swaine). It was predicted that 75 % of Americans would be overweight in 2020 (Swaine). Who should foot the bill for these huge medical costs?

For those three quarters of the American population are going to need health care and medicine, is it fair to ask the government, and therefore the tax payer, to pay for the health care of a 12-year-old diabetic boy, for his insulin, for his visits to the dietician’s or for his extra-tuition when he missed school, when the fast food industry is potentially at the root of the problem. Should the fast food industry be taking a larger share of the responsibility? Coupled with a healthy lifestyle, including plenty of exercise, the odd fast food meal will not negatively impact a person’s health.

Where it becomes problematic is where fast food meals are the main diet and this can happen in more deprived sections of society where income is low and affordable fast food meals are an attractive option. Clearly here the lifestyles are not so healthy, exercise is not a priority and excessive weight gain is more likely. Seen in isolation, fast food cannot be singled out as the cause of obesity but linked to other related factors including exercise regime and socio-economic variables such as household income, it can clearly have a negative impact.

Governments, (not only the US), have a responsibility to ensure that the population is informed and educated about healthy diets and lifestyles and they continue to do this. Bridging the gap between low income households and those that can possibly more easily afford the healthy lifestyles mentioned above is a harder challenge and in reality one that will never be fully achieved. High levels of obesity will continue to prevail where a diet and exercise are not seen as priorities.


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