Obesity has risen exponentially in developed nations like the United States and the United Kingdom and has become a public health problem in most nations. Did you know that 75% of the American population is likely to be overweight and obese by 2020? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 36% of American adults and 17% of those under age 19 are obese. Obesity has become an epidemic in the USA and is leading to major health complications such as premature deaths and illnesses like heart diseases, diabetes, cancers, arthritis, gall bladder diseases and joint disorders.
One of the leading causes of obesity is fast food, they are considered to go hand in hand. According to a study from the CDC, one in three U.S. adults, or 85 million people, eat fast food each day. The CDC data was based on a survey of about 10,000 adults over four years. There were no differences between men and women.
Results from the analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicate that in the U.S., per capita calorie intake increased by more than 300 kilo-calories (kcal) among the entire population from 1985 through 2002. The numbers have only risen over the past decade.
There are four basic reasons why fast food is linked to obesity:
• high in calories
• high in fat
• high in saturated and trans fat
• high in sugar
• high in simple carbohydrates
• high in sodium (salt)
The unhealthy ingredients of the fast food are further aggravated with increased portion sizes which have grown parallel with the average body weight of a person from the 1970’s to date. Studies have shown that even with larger portions, people still eat the complete meal regardless of feeling full or not. This means that people are eating bigger portions of junk food, leading to abnormal weight gain.
One of the main reasons people eat fast food is its low cost. Research conducted by the University of Washington, a diet containing 2000 calories of fast food costs much less than a diet with 2000 calories of healthy food. This makes it more affordable than going for healthy food.
Fast food restaurants offer convenience. You can always find one in close proximity to your home or get food easily delivered to your house. This again makes it a convenient option over cooking at home with healthier ingredients.
Fast foods affect children and youth often worse than adults. This is because most of the fast foods are targeted towards children and there tends to be a sustained pattern of eating fast foods and eating out. Children who consistently eat more calories than they burn off will develop obesity over time. Even a 2% imbalance could mean an excess of 30 kilo-calories per day. This corresponds to two-thirds of a chocolate cookie, fewer than two French fries or one-fourth of a can of soda! Studies show that the calorie content of meals eaten outside the home were 55% higher than those of in-home meals.
As a means to better define caloric intake, every restaurant with more than 20 locations was required to include calorie count guidelines in their menus, according to the original ACA that was passed in 2010. This was meant to help patrons understand how many calories they were about to eat. But implementation was delayed numerous times, largely due to lobbying from the restaurant industry. Fortunately, numerous chains such as McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Chipotle have already put menu labeling into effect in anticipation of the new guidelines. Even though it finally passed in May of this year, the FDA announced that over the course of the next year officials will seek to educate the industry about meeting the new rules, rather than enforcing them.
Supporters of the new rule say restaurants need to be held accountable for the unhealthy items they serve, and that displaying calorie count info will help consumers make better choices. While recent studies have indicated that calorie counts on menus may not have the intended effect on what people choose to order, they may be somewhat effective in pushing the restaurants themselves to offer lower-calorie options. Be aware that what we consider to be a healthy option may, in truth, not actually be. The perfect example- a salad at McDonald’s has more calories than a Big Mac! That’s why it’s so important to have these caloric labels available.
The bottom line – eating outside of the house significantly increases weight gain and obesity. If it is not controlled, health issues are going to rise in the coming years as more people become obese eating unhealthy fast food. Let’s make sure we are not part of that statistic.