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Over the past few decades, the popularity of fast food has increased tremendously. The number of fast food outlets all over the world testifies to this fact. Why do people opt for food that has adverse affects on their health? The obvious answer is that it lives up to its name, pleasing the growing consumer demands. The smell and taste of fast food lure thousands of people to choose from their menu lists, which are often consistent. It is hard to find a person these days who has not heard about or tried meals at such famous fast food chains as McDonalds, Burger King, Arby’s, Dairy Queen, Jack in the Box, etc. Hard-working people find fast food as the best choice among the variety of dining options, because it is cheap, tasty, and fast and numerous advertisements persuade that it is healthy. However, various studies and researches prove quite the opposite. Are bad health effects substantial reasons to persuade busy individuals to abstain from visiting fast food outlets on a regular basis?
Nowadays, people have become too dependent on fast food and some have become even addicted to it. The figures vividly demonstrate the correctness of this statement, indicating that “more than a quarter of Americans depend on fast food, and over 30 percent of people consume some fast food on any given day. Americans spend over $134 billion on fast food per year” (Marano, 2010, p. 45). The popularity of fast food is accounted for people’s desire to save as much time as possible and cope with numerous tasks within limited time. In the majority of cases, the working individuals have busy schedules and, as a result, no time for preparing food and prefer to eat in cafes and restaurants. The fast food option emerges as the best alternative, catering for and pleasing everyone’s taste and, of course, people make use of it. The consumers of fast food like the fact that it is served really fast. People fill their stomachs and then proceed to the matters at hand, saving a great deal of time. They also like the taste of fast food, namely the crispy crust of French fries and the burger sauce and the strawberry flavor of the milkshake, etc. The smell and taste of fast food whet the diner’s appetite, encouraging them to consume more. Besides, the portions are big enough to satisfy the most fastidious clients. Thirdly, the network of fast food outlets is so dense that there is always a possibility of finding a fast food restaurant somewhere nearby, close to your college, work or home. The last but not the least reason for the popularity of fast food, which is often underscored, is that the price of such food is comparatively low and many people can afford it. The advantages of fast food are evident and tangible, while the disadvantages still have to be proved. Very often people are oblivious to the results of the studies and researches that demonstrate the negative impact of fast food on human health. However, these should be considered in order to be familiar with the reverse side of the fast food medal.
With the emergence of fast food people were happy to receive quick and tasty meals until various health problems started to manifest themselves. The first and the foremost problem that is attributed to the avid consumption of fast food is obesity. American nation suffers greatly from it. “Nearly two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are overweight, and 30.5% are obese, according to data from a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey” (USA Today, 2005, p. 3). The information presented by Stender, Dyerberg and Astrup (2007) corroborates the fact of Americans’ obesity and links it to the frequent visits of fast food restaurants:
“The American population study Cardia suggests that frequent fast-food consumption is positively associated with weight gain and risk of insulin resistance over 15 years. Individuals who had meals at fast-food restaurants more than two times a week gained 4.5 kg more weight and had a 104% greater increase in insulin resistance, at both baseline and follow-up, than individuals who ate less than one fast-food meal per week” (p. 887).
People are what they eat. Moreover, they should know what they gulp down. The fast food manufactures should provide the customers with the accurate information about the ingredients, nutrients and health risks of such food. “Industrially produced trans-fatty acids” are rarely pinpointed by fast food manufacturers, but in the long run they contribute substantially to the overweight of the American nation (Stender, Dyerberg, & Astrup, 2007, p. 888). Besides, trans fat content various across the outlets, as Stender, Dyerberg and Astrup’s research emphasizes. There is no denying to the fact that fast food is deficient in dietary fiber and vitamins and minerals. Even the healthier alternatives on the fast food menu such as salads, fresh fruit, yogurts, grilled chicken, etc. seem to have adverse affects on our health. “They do not differ significantly in their acute effects on vascular reactivity” (Nursing Standard, 2007, p. 15). In addition to obesity, fast food lovers suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure, liver diseases and cancer. These are the most often mentioned health problems related to the frequent intake of junk food.
Even though people know about the high energy density of fast food, they can hardly control their appetites. The combination of salt, sugar and fat triggers the pleasure chemicals in the brain and people gradually turn into the fast food addicts. Their eating habits are manipulated not only by the amount of additives that make it hard to resist such food, but the portions sizes as well. In fact, “portion sizes of burgers, fried potatoes, pizzas, and soft drinks at fast-food outlets have all increased 2-5-fold over the last 50 years” (Stender, Dyerberg, & Astrup, 2007, p. 888). The increase of the portion sizes is a well-planned marketing strategy aimed to attract more customers. Large portions contribute to the increasing obesity rates through providing more calories than our bodies actually need, encouraging people to consume more calories and to underestimate those calories. Many people nowadays lead a sedentary lifestyle and they do not use up the excess calories and fats they consume with fast food. Moreover, people want to surround themselves with more goods that make their lives comfortable. This desire to have more is generously satisfied by the fast food outlets that are highly responsive to American consumerism.
Obsession with fast food has adverse affects on memory and learning, as highlighted by the USA Today (2005). It suggests that “reducing the amount of fat and empty calories may improve one’s memory and increase resistance to age- and stress-related cognitive impairment (USA Today, 2005, p. 3). This information should be taken into account by parents who do not want their children to be slow on the uptake. The target groups of fast food industry include children in the first place, teenagers and blue-collar workers. Children are lured to fast food establishments through colorful playgrounds, clowns and toys. They are more prone to advertisements directed specifically at them and temping children to try new products of fast food chains. Moreover, fast food industry stakes on children because childhood memories of fast food products may be transferred to adulthood. Youngsters cannot distinguish reality from marketing techniques and that is why they become an easy prey to profit-oriented fast food giants. McDonalds, for instance, has spent millions of dollars on advertising campaigns targeted at youngsters that present a rather unique version of reality. As a matter of fact, fast food diet in children leads to various health problems. Nowadays the rate of obesity among American children is rapidly growing. Children should be taught to make wise food choices, based on what is useful for their bodies. The importance of healthy eating habits is connected with the reduction of health-related diseases and the way one feels. If children are informed about the dangers of fast food, they are less likely to eat it. Not only information, but parents’ eating habits influence children’s food choices. If parents consume fast food, their children will probably do the same, imitating them. Therefore, parents are responsible for particular eating habits and food preferences of their children. Teenagers are attracted to fast food restaurants, because they consider them great places to hang out with friends. They are influenced by the media, as fast food advertisements continually persuade that it is fun to be there. Besides children and teenagers, there is a target group of “heavy users” that include male customers who eat at fast food establishments several times a week. For such consumers, fast food restaurants usually have special offers like the Monster Burger, the Big Xtra, the Big King, etc. It is a pity that these days fast food is gradually ousting family meal, which has been traditionally viewed as a good opportunity for all members to gather together and socialize, sharing their experiences. Eating at fast food restaurants deprives people of quality time with their friends and family, focusing more on the speed, encouraging people to eat on the run.
In view of the current economic downturn that has more or less impacted all spheres of life, fast food chains are now competing in the lowest prices, offering discounts and doubling portions of favorite food items. The more fast food establishments operate in the area, the stronger is the competition and the lower are the prices. When some fast food restaurants go out of business, they are immediately replaced by others that open up at the same location. As long as economy is in decline, people prefer fast food establishments over expensive restaurants, thus increasing the profits of fast food giants. However, some small fast food chains cannot keep afloat in times of economic downfall and have to give up their positions on the market, giving way to more powerful companies.
Fast food reinforces hurry, busyness and impatience that are part and parcel of our modern way of life. Whether we acknowledge it or not, but fast food reaches beyond our eating habits, penetrating deep into our minds and settling into a routine. The role of fast food in our daily lives can hardly be overestimated. As Hara Estroff Marano underscores “just a glimpse of the golden arches changes our psychology so that people become impatient about financial decisions – they wind up unwilling to postpone immediate gain for future rewards, so they sacrifice savings, against their economic interest” (2010, p. 45). It seems that fast food phenomenon penetrates all spheres of our life, changing the ways we work, rest and make decisions. Marano gives a broad hint that fast food is inextricably linked to the poverty issues, claiming that “fast food outlets dominate in low-income neighborhoods because such food is relatively inexpensive. It may be that acting surreptitiously on psyches to deter savings, they keep people confined to low-income neighborhoods” (2010, p. 46). That is an interesting statement that requires a more in-depth analysis. However, there is a nugget of truth in what the writer says. It goes without saying that fast food is in tune with the lifestyles of the majority of people, as it helps them to stay focused on their goals and dreams. The modern world promotes competition, and you have to be good enough not just to survive, but be competent and successful. As a result, people seem to care less about what they eat unless they experience problems with their health. I believe that the more customers are informed about the unhealthiness of fast food they are more likely to make right food choices.
It is difficult to make people abstain from fast food as long as they look for convenience everywhere and in everything. Overcoming unhealthy eating habits may seem like a challenge for one’s lifestyle that means becoming more selective about food items and probably spending more time in the kitchen. After all, each person determines the quality of their life and the damage to the body can be undone by switching the diet. It is never too late to pay proper attention to one’s health. Besides, the variety of food these days allows making sound eating choices. If people choose their diet attentively, go in for some kind of sport, lead an active lifestyle they are sure to enjoy their lives. Resisting the temptation of fast food gives people control over the quality of their lives.