This report tries to find out whether fast food is the major cause of growing obesity in United States and what are the reasons of popularity of Fast food in America.
Obesity is a medical disorder in which body fat has gathered to such an extent that it may have a negative effect on the overall health condition of a person (Haslam & James, 2005). People are supposed to be obese when their Body Mass Index (BMI) measurement is greater than 30 Kg / m2 (Haslam & James, 2005).
Obesity is a major problem of United States which affects approximately 34% of adults; one of every five children (4 years old) in America is obese (Obesity in America). Only one percent of obese people are obese due to glandular problems. Unbalanced and unhealthy diet is the major cause of obesity. According to Marion Nestle, Chair of New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, “the increased calories in American diets come from eating more food in general, but especially more of foods high in fat (meat, dairy, fried foods, grain dishes with added fat), sugar (soft drinks, juice drinks, desserts), and salt (snack foods)” (Nestle, 2002; p. 10). Thus most of the people are obese because they have high intake of food and less exercise.
Fast food and obesity
It has often been blamed by many that fast food is one of the major causes of increasing obesity in United States (Kinsey, 1994; Buthrie, Lin & Frazao, 2002). Different studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between the fast food and the body weight (Jeffery & French, 1998). Similarly, nutrition analysis of different fast food items has also proved that they are high in energy density and thus causes high energy intake (Paeratakul et. al., 2003).
However, there is no concrete data available to prove that fast foods are directly responsible for obesity. Most of the research conducted to identify a link between obesity and fast food emphasized more on aggregate level analysis instead of individual analysis. Due to their focus on aggregate level analysis, studies have found that there are more fast food outlets in areas (usually low income group) which have high probability of obesity (Reidpath et. al., 2002). Nevertheless, one study conducted to determine the direct link between fast food intake and obesity has focused on individual level and it did not find any proper link between fast food intake and obesity (Burdette & Whitaker, 2004). Another such study found that children who eat more than three times a week in a fast food restaurant have 37 to 40% more calories intake which ultimately leads towards obesity (French et. al., 2001).
Soda is usually an integral part of fast food. Statistics depicted that during the period from 1977 to 1996 soda consumption has increased 75% for boys and 40% for girls, among the adolescents from 12 to 19 years of age. One can of soda increase the likelihood by 1.6 times for a child to become obese (Ludwig et al., 2001).
Reasons for popularity of Fast Food
The question arises here, what compels the Americans to eat such poorly balanced food. The answer of the question is not simple and involves many factors. First of all the life and society has changed in a manner, which has affected the family structure also. Nearly one third of all children in America live in a single parent household. Even in the family of two parents, parents do not have time for their children. The pace of society is so fast that they have to go to offices to live according to the standards of the society. The youth of today miss the real parental love. It has been observed that the increasing communication deficit between parents and children has caused increased incidences of long term emotional and behavioral problems amongst the teenagers of today. The ethical and moral disorder is responsible for increasing violence, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, homosexuality etc. in the teenagers of today. This changed life style, especially in low-income and single-parent families, has compelled the children to take unhealthy and junk food more often than required.
Advertising also played a major role in increasing the fast food popularity in America. According to National Cancer Institute, “Commercial advertisers have learned that a consistent and prominent presence in the marketplace is key to achieving and holding market share” (National Cancer Institute, 2000). Statistics revealed that in 2004 the total expenditure of different food items including fast food restaurants was approximately $11.26 billion.
Fast food advertisers target ethnic minorities directly through their own media outlets and programs. Food items which are advertised for ethnic minorities are usually unbalanced and unhealthy as compared to the food advertised for general audience (Reyes, 2005). Research conducted in 2005 depicted that more than 52 percent of food items advertisement published in Hispanic women’s magazines were for unhealthy and unbalanced food as compared to 29 percent such advertisements published in general magazines (Duerksen et. al., 2005).
Fast food items advertising usually target children in order to create and establish brand loyalty at an early age. Among the six brands which have enjoyed very strong recognition in children, four are related to food, i.e. Cheerios, McDonald’s, Pop-Tarts, and Coke (Comiteau, 2003). These companies relied on the fact that the children would emotionally connected to these companies even in their adulthood (Comiteau, 2003). Advertising and marketing very significantly influence the buying behavior of people and the notion cannot be rejected in totality that frequent use of this unhealthy food is a major cause of increasing obesity.
Obesity is a steadily growing problem for Americans, especially for American children. It has been blamed that fast food is the major cause of obesity in United States. Although research did not find any direct link between fast food and obesity but it is equally true that fast food, if not directly, indirectly affects the eating habits and obesity of people of United States.
There are several reasons of increasing popularity of fast food in America which includes family structure, low income families and advertising.
Although researchers are not sure whether fast food is a major cause of increasing obesity in United States or not but it is a fact that fast food is not very healthy and balanced food and by avoiding such food one can easily curtail his or her calories intake.