The dangers of fast food have been a much discussed topic in recent years. Although fast food is convenient and inexpensive, we as a society need to stop eating fast food because it increases health problems, impacts the environment, and has created a food economy dominated by giant corporations. The dictionary defines fast food as food "that is prepared in quantity by a standardized method and can be dispensed quickly at inexpensive restaurants of eating there or elsewhere" (Dictionary.com, 2010). In the United States of America, the well-known fast food restaurants are Burger King, McDonald, Wendy, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken. These are the popular restaurants where customers can get a quick, inexpensive meal, which is usually unhealthy. Fast food is one of the major variables leading to obesity in our society today, which is a major problem for the health of our country. According to Young & Nestle (2007) the size of "fast foods have increased in parallel with rising rates of overweight." In this paper I will discuss some of the dangers of fast food and how it can cause obesity, how it impacts our environment and how it has created an economy dominated by giant corporations.
Why Do People Choose Fast Food
People choose fast food for many reasons, it is inexpensive, convenient, and it taste good. " Buying healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats increased a food budget by 5,000% per calorie" (Ulrich, 2005). Fast food is a big part of the average American lunch choice. Americans are busy, they need to get a lunch meal, that is quick, easily accessible and affordable. Fast food is also a good meal choice, because the fast food industry has spent many years and dollars creating a brand that is desirable. A study conducted by Blanck et. al (2009) found that younger adults and less educated people are more likely to make fast food their daily lunch choice. They also found that one of the most important factors to consumers when purchasing lunch was convenience.
Potential Dangers of Fast Food
According to Hellmich (2006) choosing to eat fast food meals are consuming more calories and fats that they think. Hellmich found that Americans consume an average of 159 fast food meals per year, which are about three meals per person per week. Supersizing the meals is another major problem with consuming fast food meals. The nutritional intake labels are designed for standard sized meals and therefore it is usually difficult for the average consumer to calculate the nutritional content of their super-sized meal. The Hellmich (2006) found that most people were consuming about 500 more calories than they assumed in their fast food meals. The intake of extra calorie and extra fat, especially without knowing it is a major problem. Eating these unhealthy meals frequently can lead to many different types of health problems. Many of the health related issues associated with the consumption of foods high in trans-fat and high levels of calories are life changing diseases. Fast food is related to obesity which leads to many other types of medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, along with other medical issues. Diseases such as cardiovascular diseases or diabetes are not curable, they are lifelong illness. These medical conditions can be controlled, however once and individual is diagnosed with these types of diseases it changes the way they live forever, it alters their lifestyle.
"Consumption of fast food, which have high energy densities and gylcemic loads and expose customers to excessive portion sizes, may be greatly contributing to and escalating the rates of overweight and obesity in the U.S.A." (Rosenheck, 2008). Food's that are high in trans fats, sugar and salt when frequently consumed with a lack of exercise could lead to obesity (Ulrich, 2005). Since 1990 there has been a 33% increase in death related to obesity in the United States. About 400,000 people die each year because of poor diet and inactivity. This is a significant threat to Americans and their health. According to the Surgeon General 27% of Americans are obese and 61% are overweight (Ulrich, 2005). There is a direct correlation between the consumption of fast food and overweight. Morland & Evenson (2009) have found that areas with more supermarkets and less fast food restaurants' had a lower prevalence of obesity. According to Fraser & Edwards (2010) "There is a positive relationship between the density of fast food outlets per area and the obesity status of children. There is also a significant association between fast food outlet density and areas of higher deprivation" (Fraser & Edwards, 2010). This is a growing health concern which must be addressed to protect the health of Americans.
Consequences of Obesity
One of the biggest consequences of obesity is premature death (Ulrich, 2005). Obesity can lead to many different major health problems such as; diabetes, heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancers, depression and many other types of disease. These are major health issues, which will alter the lifestyle of the individuals impacted. The cost of health care is increased by 36% for an obese person and medication is increased by 77% (Ulrich, 2005). There are psychological and discrimination disadvantages associated with obesity. The weight stigma is a major problem. Although more Americans are overweigh than are not, there is still negative perception and stigma associated with those feelings (Puhl & Heuer, 2010). Studies have found that there are harmful weight-based stereotypes associated with people that are overweight. These stereotypes include; " laziness, weak-willed, unsuccessful, unintelligent, lack self-discipline, have poor willpower and are noncompliant with weight-loss treatment" (Puhl & Heuer, 2010).
Fast food in the Western cultures has about 21% fats which can cause trauma to the heart (Tikellis et. al., 2008). According to Tikellis et. al, the Western diet is associated with many different types of cardiological problems, due to cardiac injury. The exposure of the human body to such high levels of fats, especially without adequate exercise could cause severe craniological problems after a period of time. According to the Consumer Report (2009) eating food with trans-fatty acids may cause harm to the heart.
"Americans spend nearly half of their food budget on foods prepared outside of the home and consume about one-third of daily calories from outside sources, much of it from fast food" (Young & Nestle, 2007). Many individuals choose a value meal, at a fast food chain for lunch as opposed to a restaurant meal because of the cost. Adolescents in high school prefer to purchase a lunch, rather than take a packed lunch to school. Many of these students choose fast food for lunch because of the cost, location and the brand recognition (MarketWatch, 2007). Obesity is a major economic factor in the United States. The cost of medical visits, diet programs and medications for obesity is a major financial strain on both the families and the economy (Trasande, 2010).
Fast Food and Our Environment
When we think of fast food we do not think of our environment. We think of French fries drizzled with ketchup, a juicy burger and a coke. Fast food has an impact on our environment even though we may not stop to think about it, or even really know much about how the fast food industry impacts the environment. The fast food industry is led by a few major corporations that is mainly concerned with the bottom line dollar, than they are about the consumers' health or the health of the environment (Archer, 2009). One of the environmental consequences of fast food restaurants is that they cluster around schools. Austin et al. (2005) found that 78% of schools were located within 800 m of at least one fast food restaurants. One of the major environmental factors of the fast food industry is that they are located where they can target our children. Some of the changes in the environment we need to worry about is the health of our generation, and future generations to come. Many scientists are predicting that this generation of children will live fewer years than their parents (Brownell, 2010).
There are many environmental issues associated with the fast food industry. Some of the biggest concerns is the destruction of the environment by improper discarding of wrappers, boxes, cups and other paper or plastic products. The industry also utilizes a significant amount of paper and plastic products which is another environmental concern. Packaging of the fast food is a major part of the industry, the lack of recycling, reusing and reducing of waste is a major environmental concern (West, 2010). Another major concern is the pollution in our environment from mass production factory, created by the fast food industry. Schlosser (2000) also discussed the destruction of the cattle industry and the way animals are cared for and handled, which is a major environmental concern.