Americans are known as the fat people: those who walk around and have thunder thighs and cankles. Why do people have this perception of us if it’s not true? Because in some ways, it is true: 32.2% of men and 35.5% of women in the United States are obese today. Super Size Me, a documentary that came out about a man who ate only McDonald’s for 30 days straight, looks into one of the largest causes of obesity today: fast food restaurants. Yes, that includes McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King. Would you risk gaining 24.5 lbs or more and your cholesterol level rising to 230 in order to have your deep fat fried chicken fingers whenever you wanted? Well the Super Size Me guy did.
Now I’m not saying everyone doesn’t enjoy or shouldn’t enjoy a fatty food here or there. I’m just trying to tell people about these foods they are eating. Let’s look at one meal from McDonald’s: Say you order a premium crispy chicken club sandwich thinking it’s probably a healthy option. Well, you’re wrong. This sandwich alone is 680 calories. Throw in a medium sized fries and you add another 380 calories. Top it all off with a 32 oz. vanilla triple-thick shake and your meal has just cost you 2,170 calories, already exceeding the daily calorie limit for the average woman.
People eat fast food for many reasons, including taste, price, and availability. It’s true: things that are bad for you always taste better than healthy choices. Most people I know are going to choose the chicken fingers over the salad because people like to enjoy their food, and fast food restaurants know this and use it to their advantage. One of the most glaring factors that these businesses exploit is the desire for cheaper food. These “restaurants” entice people who can’t afford the newest and healthiest kale salad with their two-dollar menu items. You also can’t forget that these places are everywhere. You see one on almost every corner, and when you turn around you get smacked in the face by the McDonald’s logo or approached by some creepy guy dressed as Ronald McDonald. And of course you are also bombarded by the endless amount of commercials you see on T.V. There are 240,115 fast food restaurants nationwide and they serve 50 million people daily. That means 50 million people are eating food that can’t even be really called food. It’s closer to fat wrapped in more fat sprinkled with sugar and salt. In a 2009 study conducted at the University of California Berkeley, researchers found that the proximity of fast food restaurants is directly linked to weight gain. The researchers reported that ninth grade students who had a fast food restaurant within one tenth of a mile of the school experienced a five percent increase in obesity.
There are other reasons why we eat fast food, and the main idea connecting these factors is something common to all of us to a certain degree: laziness. 80% of people surveyed say they eat fast food because it’s easy to get to, while 44% say they just don’t like preparing food themselves. As a whole, Americans are pretty lazy about a variety of things, and many people are lazy about their food, in particular. Laziness comes with a lack of attention, which is why more than a third of Americans are obese. People see nutrition as something that isn’t as important as things like bills or other necessities, but in reality it is. If you don’t believe this, then just think about all the medical bills you will have to pay for and all the new clothes you will have to buy because you can’t fit into your old ones. Being obese comes with a whole new set of struggles and responsibilities and laziness is no longer an option.
Perhaps the biggest misconception about fast food is the result of a lack of education about the industry itself. There are reports that talk about the harmful effects of fast food, but this information is either not open to or not reaching the public. In a recent survey, 21% of people said they like fast food restaurants because of the nutritious options they offer. The only thing close to a “nutritious option” is the Southwest salad at McDonald’s, which has close to four hundred calories. Four hundred calories for a salad is not healthy, however, because of all the dressing and other toppings mixed in.
Let’s get away from the numbers, though, and talk about the effects of obesity on Americans today. Everyone today, especially teenage girls, is pressured by social media and other controlling aspects to be beautiful. Those girls who strive to be a size 0 and whose families can’t afford anything besides fast food might choose not to eat if that’s the only way of reaching their goal. The qualities that people associate with beauty are based on how skinny they are. Teenage girls, influenced by their surroundings, take this in and believe it. The truth is, not everyone can look like a Victoria’s Secret model no matter how hard they try. These models, on average, are 5’10” and weigh only 115 pounds. On average, the healthy recommended weight for a 5’10” female is 150 pounds. That means girls are looking at these models and thinking they need to lose 35 pounds in order to be beautiful. Girls that don’t fit this perfect mold, in turn, have lower self-esteem, which can lead to many other problems, both mental and physical. But you can’t put all the blame on social media. Put the blame on fast food restaurants.
As I said before, the U.S. is seen as a fat country. Period. “Skinny countries” such as Japan and India look at us and see obesity. You can’t really blame them. More than one third of our population is obese and this problem is caused by places like Burger King. They throw more and more food at us every day. And why? Because they just want to make money. Diseases such as heart problems and diabetes don’t bother them. As long as their pockets are getting bigger, they don’t mind our pants sizes getting bigger. Fast food restaurants not only cause health problems: they are also slowly widening the gap between social classes. The wealthy, those who always appear to be fit and thin, aren’t relying on or regularly eating fast food because they can afford the higher priced and healthier options. People living near or below the poverty line have no other options besides cheap and, most likely, fatty foods. People in this country discriminate on hundreds of different things from race to gender to body size, and those who are fit and wealthy are given one more reason as to why they believe they are better than those who are poor.
In order to fix this stereotype about Americans and our size, we need to change the influence we allow the fast food industry to have on our lives. Many people in this country would classify fast food as a commodity because they don’t know any different.
To stop this growing epidemic, we first need to limit the amount of calories allowed in any one fast food item. Fast food is soaked in fat and the only thing it helps increase is the risk of a heart attack. By limiting the amount of calories in any given meal, we could slowly reduce the odds of obesity in one way. This would allow people to feel better about what they are eating.
Fast food not only puts us at risk for social problems, it also increases our risk of health problems. American journalist Eric Schlosser said, “ The fast food industry is in very good company with the lead industry and the tobacco industry in how it tries to mislead the public, and how aggressively it goes after anybody who criticizes its business practices.” This shows that, although many might not believe it, smoking tobacco and eating fast food on a regular basis can produce extreme health problems. Tobacco in cigarettes, as we all know, can lead to cancer, but do we all understand the problems obesity causes? Obesity leads to coronary heart disease, type two diabetes, different forms of cancer, hypertension, stroke, gallbladder and liver disease, and sleep apnea and breathing problems, along with many other health concerns. Schlosser perfectly captures the risks when he says, “Fast food is popular because it’s convenient, it’s cheap, and it tastes good. But the real cost of eating fast food never appears on the menu.” Obesity is something that many people joke about without understanding its real risks and implications. However, obesity can seriously impact your lifestyle just as much as any other disease.
Perhaps the most compelling argument against fast food has to do with the risk of death. Almost all of these diseases can lead to either death or serious health problems in the future. Many people know smoking and doing drugs is bad for you due to available research, and they now try to avoid these addictions. However, obesity is just as great a health problem as lung cancer from smoking. Advertisements play a large role in the differing perspectives about the health risks of cancer and obesity. The legal age for buying cigarettes is 18, while anyone can buy a Big Mac; maybe the latter isn’t as harmful as the former, but they can produce the same effects. 18.1% of Americans today smoke. This number has dropped significantly because of the research that shows just how harmful it can be. Commercials regarding cigarettes today are legally required to remind you of the harmful effects of smoking, and other public service commercials show you someone suffering from lung cancer. It is made as unappealing as possible, but the next commercial about McDonald’s is colorful and attractive, especially to young children. The reality is, people don’t recognize how harmful these fast food restaurants can be. They are uneducated, but also in denial that the food from these restaurants can lead to obesity and other health risks.
Many people might say it is a person’s decision to determine what they put into their bodies, but in reality some don’t have the same amount of control as others. As I stated before, the wealthy are usually thin. This is true because the economically sound have access to information about what is and isn’t good for your body and they make decisions about what food they eat. Most, however, would like to remain healthy and choose the healthier, but also more expensive, options. Those who are below or at the poverty line would also like to lead healthy and active lives, but they don’t always have that option. If they can only afford the cheapest meals to feed themselves and their families, they aren’t going to focus on how healthy it is, despite the fact that they really do care about this problem. They are going to feed their families the food that will leave them full. This dilemma causes an even greater social gap to form and the bigger it gets, the harder it is to close. Fast food restaurants not only harm our health—they also separate us further into economic classes.
Fast food is not the only reason that many Americans are obese today. However, these restaurants are a major concern and do lead to health problems for many Americans. We can’t turn our backs on something that is hitting us in the face. Obesity isn’t something we can risk or see as a small problem. We can’t “cure” obesity, but we can limit its effects by restricting the calories on meals in fast food restaurants. Obesity has the power to affect all aspects of person’s life—physical, mental, and social. Fast food restaurants need to be monitored or soon enough we will all have serious health issues on our hands.