Obesity Epidemic in America: Who Is to Blame?
Mmmm Mom's Home Cooking
Tipping the Scales
Look around you. There is no denying Americans are getting heavier. And heavier. And heavier. Being overweight correlates to a host of health problems including high blood pressure and diabetes, and ultimately, shorter life expectancy. Current statistics:
- 67% of Americans (200 million) are overweight or obese - a doubling since 1980. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Currently one third of American children are either obese or at risk of becoming obese (IOM Progress In Preventing Childhood Obesity)
"Today's children may become the first generation in history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents'."- 17th United States Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S.
That is a frightening thought.
From Family Dining to Fast Food Nation
We were not always a super-sized nation.
Well, how did we get here? A combination of trends has changed our eating habits and our very relationship with food. I'll use my own childhood as my benchmark. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s there was exactly one hamburger stand in our town, Wetson's. We frequented it very, very infrequently, like maybe 3x a year. We also had a Dunkin' Donuts. My dad had a sweet tooth, so he got us a dozen donuts after church every couple of weeks (we went to church every week, we just didn't get donuts every time). On Friday nights we were allowed TV dinners. Other than that, we ate home-cooked food. If we dined out, it was a special occasion. My mom wasn't big on cooking, so if fast food had been more available, I've no doubt we would have been first in the drive-thru line.
Fast-forward to the present as I'm raising my son. Working full-time is not an excuse for laziness in the meal planning department, it's simply part of this equation. We have soccer practice after school, games and tournaments on weekends. My son goes through various evolutionary phases in his choice of fast food. First McDonald's, then Burger King (always Burger King for French toast sticks and hash browns, the breakfast of late-for-school champions). He flirts with Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, In ‘n Out Burger, finally declaring Wendys his all-time favorite.
Ninety percent of these "meals" are consumed in transit. Despite the fact that my German car has no cup holders (think they might be onto something here?), we regularly eat and drink while driving.
It's this eating/drinking and driving that's so dangerous. We multitask. We snarf rather than savor. Do we even care if we're ingesting French fries or quesadillas? Heck no! They're both just starch and grease. The perfect road food. We're lovin' it!
Cheap, fast and easy -- is just a little sleazy
Then there's the seductively low price of fast food. Fast food restaurants appeal to people who are either in a hurry, on a limited food budget, or both. If I'm hungry this minute, it offers me a quick fix. I can eat a "satisfying" meal, complete with drink, for under $5 and I don't have to pay a tip.
If they priced their food higher would they lose customers? That would be an interesting experiment. The combo of convenience and price is hard to beat.
What makes it so good?
My son and I had this discussion just this week. We both swear there is a secret ingredient all fast food restaurants put in their food. This little extra somethin' makes it smell irresistible and keeps you coming back for more. We don't know exactly what it is (that's why it's a secret) but it's the food equivalent of THC or nicotine. And yet, fast food has not been formally declared addictive.
Just because they sell it you don't have to eat it
This is my son's argument. He sees it as a personal choice based on the common sense he claims everyone should have. For example, "Everyone should know that eating a hamburger so big you can't even fit in your mouth is way more fat and calories than a regular burger." His common sense solution to super-sized soft drinks is to buy the large (because it's only $.20 more than a small) but don't drink it all.
This may explain why, despite consuming his fair share of McDonald's et al over the years, he is still long and lean. Others aren't so lucky
McDonald's made me fat
In 2002 two Bronx, NY teenagers sued McDonald's, claiming that its food had caused them to become obese and unhealthy. The suit claimed McDonald's failed to clearly and conspicuously disclose the ingredients and effects of its food, including high levels of fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol. The landmark legal action was the first of its kind against a fast-food chain to make its way into a U.S. courtroom and was modeled on similar litigation against tobacco companies.
The plaintiffs argued that McDonald's should be held accountable for the girls' obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. The father of one of the girls said he had never seen anything in the Bronx restaurants that informed him of the food's ingredients. "I always believed McDonald's was healthy for my children," he said in an affidavit.
To win their argument, the girls would have to prove that McDonald's successfully fools its customers into a state of ignorance about the health risks of eating its product, and that in the absence of McDonald's deception, they would not have become overweight.
That seems like a pretty heavy burden of proof, doesn't it? And that dad doesn't sound too bright. I may feed my kid McDonald's, but I never fool myself into thinking it's "healthy."
Lawyers representing McDonald's used the same argument as my son. They said, "Every responsible person understands what is in products such as hamburgers and fries, as well as the consequence to one's waistline, and potentially to one's health, of excessively eating those foods over a prolonged period of time."
McDonald's lawyers also contended that it would be impossible to establish whether eating at McDonald's was a major cause of ailments because genetics, medical conditions and sedentary lifestyles could also be factors."
I dunno about that. These kids were just teenagers. Awfully young to be dealing with high cholesterol, high blood pressure AND diabetes - those usually show up after several more years of trashing your body.
Is McDonald's Liable for Obese Customers?
- McDonald's sued over Happy Meals - Los Angeles Times
Happy Meals are again under attack, this time in court. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a lawsuit against McDonald's Corp., claiming that the company's meals with toys
- Man Wins McDonald's Made Me Fat Lawsuit - YouTube
Ben Mankiewicz (filling in for Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks) and Ana Kasparian discuss a rather curious ruling made by a Brazilian judge, who awarded ...
Not so fast (food)
... says the judge
In the end, the judge dismissed the case. But the fact that McDonald's has added more healthful alternatives such as salads and yogurt to its menu can be seen as a "good faith" effort (at least to avoid further litigation).
As for me, I do consider myself a "responsible person" who understands the consequences of various food choices to my waistline and health. To me, responsible means that I hold myself accountable for the food choices I make. McDonald's may have deeper pockets than some of the other companies I could go after (Dreyer's ice cream, Hershey's, Frito Lay, to name just a few). The bottom line is, I do agree with my son on this one. Just because they make it, I don't have to eat it. And if I do eat it, I know enough to get my bottom to the gym and work - not sue - to get rid of the consequences of my indulgence!
Fast Food Facts & Figures
- The Fast Food Explorer | Helping America Make Healthier Fast Food Choices
Helping America Make Healthier Fast Food Nutritional Choices.