Fast-food, as the name suggests, can be defined as that form of food that is usually prepared and served fast and is therefore inexpensive as compared to other forms of cuisine. Examples of fast-food are; hamburgers, milk-shakes, french-fries and pizza. Fast-food has become increasingly popular due to its accessibility, availability and convenience, it is reported that there are over 250000 fast food eateries which have come up in America over the last 25 years and the number continues to grow (Nestle, 2003). Also, due to people’s fast-paced lives nowadays, there is a higher demand for fast-food as opposed to food that would take longer to prepare. Fast food is usually prepared in these eateries through a consistent method to ensure uniformity in the taste and standards. It is usually served to the customer in a packaged form therefore they have the option of take-away or take-out. Fast-food is usually very low in nutrients and fiber, which are vital for general good health.
Effects of Fast Food
America is on of the most advanced and industrialized nations with the highest number of fast food restaurants. Some of these fast-food restaurants are also found in almost 100 other countries, for example KFC, McDonald and TacoBell. The number of obese people in America is also quite high with more than half of the adult population being obese, while a quarter of the children’s population is overweight (Nestle, 2003). This can be credited to a rampant fast-food culture. For one to be classified as being overweight, he or she has to have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of more than 30. The trans-fat, artificial flavors and chemicals also make the food’s taste more appealing, hence the reason why many people keep buying fast-food even when they know it is harmful to their health.
Fast-food, if taken regularly and in high proportions, will have negative consequences on our health. This conclusion has been arrived at through the study of the relationship between regular consumption of fast food with health problems. It had been proven that regular consumers of fast-food have a higher calorie intake, therefore exposing themselves to the risk of becoming over-weight and obese. The obesity-related ailments include diabetes and heart-disease among others. Obesity reduces the life expectancy of a population and also the productivity of the nation. It has been reported that obesity and obesity-related ailments are the second-leading cause of death in the U.S.A. This has been brought about by the increased intake of fast-food and rapid increase in the number if fast-food chains. Fast-food taken in large quantities can be harmful to an individual’s physical and even mental health due to the presence of trans-fats which only lead to unhealthy weight gain in the individual. In the fast-food industry, there’s also mass production which reduces the production costs making the food relatively cheaper than other healthier options, this coupled with the fact that there are usually offers for eat more at a lower price, encourages people to over-eat. Fast food is also served in considerably large portions, thus there’s a higher intake of calories.
A healthy population is more economically productive than one where many of its members are overweight or obese. A documentary titled “Supersize Me” clearly shows the effect of regular consumption of fast food on the health of an individual, after just a month of consuming only fast food, the subject had gained 13/4 stone, had some liver-damage and had mood swings (Pope, Pope-Cordle & Katahn, 2000). Besides causing obesity, fast-food is also high in sodium, therefore increasing the risk of high-blood pressure. The consumption of fast-food also reduces the insulin resistance thereby increasing the risk of getting type 2 Diabetes. The high amounts of calories, sugar, sodium, carbohydrates, proteins and saturated fats contained in fast-food are the cause of the health problems that come from eating fast-food regularly. Trans-fats, especially is the worst kind of fat. They are unsaturated and they raise the level of good LDL cholesterol while lowering the level of bad cholesterol thereby increasing the chances of diseases such as stroke and heart disease. They are partly-hydrogenated oils, and fast food restaurants use them because they are easy to use, last a long time and are relatively cheaper than other fats.
The other health risk that fast-food consumers are exposed to is the kinds of bacteria and other harmful micro-organisms that they are exposed to when they eat fast food. Fast-food eateries are known to have a long supply chain and this increases the chances of contamination of their foods, especially meats. The conditions under which the slaughterhouses that supply fast-food chains are kept are usually so unhygienic raising the risk of contamination of the meat and poultry (Schossler, 2001). Bacteria such as E. coli thrive in such conditions, and it is reported that the cows are also fed dirty water and food. This undoubtedly can cause severe illnesses such as food poisoning or bacterial infections of the stomach.
The rise of the fast-food industry has also had negative consequences on the agricultural sector and employment. In the agricultural sector, the demand for meat, dairy products and poultry is so high that these fast-food enterprises enter deals with large agricultural corporations, and as a result small agriculture firms are crowded out leading to loss of business opportunities. The fast-food industry does not require employees with a high education level and there have been cases reported of the staff being overworked and under-paid.
Nutritionists say that eating fast-food is not necessarily harmful if the food is taken in moderation while keeping in mind the calorie-content of each meal(Pope et al, 2001).They also say that the negative consequences of regular fast-food consumption can be undone by changing one’s diet to include more fruits, vegetables and grains, regular exercise and work-outs to burn the calories from the fast-food and also taking supplements that will counteract the effects of the saturated fats, oils, sugar and salt in the fast-food.
The fast-food industry targets children in some of its advertisements since they know that they will pressure their parents to buy for them the fast food. KFC for example has chicken nuggets in the shape of the Teletubbies (Schor, 2004). Advertising is unfair since children do not fully understand that the consumption of fast-food is not good for their health. This is one of the reasons why the number of overweight and obese children in America is rapidly increasing, and with this comes the ailments that are associated with obesity.
Possible Remedies to the problem
Excessive consumption of fast-food can be tackled by educating and warning the public on what they are really exposing their bodies to. Therefore, should they continue to eat unhealthily, they will be aware of the cons of this. The next step should be to impose tariffs on the products purchased by these fast food outlets. This will make them have to sell the food to the consumers at a higher price; therefore they will opt to purchase more healthy food for cooking, from grocery stores as opposed to relying on fast-food. It has also been studied that people who consume a lot of fast food also exercise less most of the time and engage in other unhealthy behavior such as smoking cigarettes. This goes to show that personal lack of responsibility is also part of the reason why the fast-food culture has spread widely throughout the U.S.
Therefore, the best solution would be to advise people to take responsibility for their own health, and watch what they eat in order to live healthier and longer. Restaurants and supermarkets that sell healthy food should also be made more available and accessible than the fast-food restaurants, and the prices of this food should be subsidized to make it more affordable than fast-food.
Nestle, M., Food politics: how the food industry influences nutrition and health, University of California Press, 2003
Pope, J., Pope-Cordle, J., & Katahn, M., The low-fat fast food guide, W.W. Norton & Co., 2000
Schlosser, E., Fast food nation: the dark side of the all-American meal, Part 10, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001
Schor, J., Born to buy: the commercialized child and the new consumer culture, Scribner, 2004