At the beginning of his career, Brad Pitt worked for El Pollo Loco to pay the bills for his acting classes. The fast-food industry may have given the world one of the most talented actors, but is it enough to turn a blind eye to all the adverse effects it exerts on our health? According to recent statistics, approximately 33% of adults and 17% of children and adolescents in the United States have been diagnosed with obesity. Studies show that those who frequently eat fast food have an increased risk of progressing from simple consumption to addiction. Even though fast food has its advantages, such as saving time and effort, as well as the convenience of a developed network of chain restaurants, people should realize that this food choice causes significant damage to their health, and if they continue eating fast food, they will become addicted to it.
Causes of Fast-Food Consumption
The main reasons for fast-food consumption among adults and children are a lack of time on the part of the former and the susceptibility to advertising for the latter. One of the most evident characteristics of fast food is its convenience because, as Van der Horst, Brunner, and Siegrist (2011) state, it “saves time and reduces the required physical and mental effort for food provisioning” (p. 597). Working mothers admit that even though pizza is not the most palatable food, it still helps to feed the family when they do not have enough time or energy to cook a healthy dinner. Researchers also have found that those who do not like cooking and refuse to spend their efforts preparing dinner are more likely to consume fast food (Richardson, Boone-Heinonen, Popkin, & Gordon-Larsen, 2011).
Several studies suggest that, unlike adults, children and adolescents consume fast food because of the extensive marketing activity of such fast food “giants” as McDonald’s, Subway, Taco Bell, Starbucks, and others (Boyland & Halford, 2013; Lichtenberg, 2012; Schlosser, 2012). According to Boyland and Halford (2013), “greater than 60% of overweight incidence” among American children and adolescents is attributed to television viewing (p. 238). Children are the primary targets of aggressive fast-food advertising because they are considered as “teenage and adult shoppers of the future,” which means that they tend to develop “brand loyalty” and remain consumers of the same product brands even after becoming adults (Boyland & Halford, 2013). Obviously, the reasons for fast-food consumption differ among various age groups; however, despite their dissimilar reasons, both adults and children are equally exposed to the harmful effects of fast food.
Everyone knows that unlimited consumption of fast food leads to such adverse effects as obesity; however, not all people realize the risk of developing fast-food addiction. Over the last three decades, obesity has become one of the primary concerns of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to Garcia, Sunil, and Hinojosa (2012), in the period between 2000 and 2005, the rate of obesity increased by 24%, the rate of morbid obesity increased by 50%, and the rate of super morbid obesity increased by 75% (p. 810). A current study reports that 33% of adults and 17% of children suffer from obesity, and forecasts a 130% increase in morbid obesity prevalence over the next two decades (Finkelstein et al., 2012).
In addition to these figures, people who like to consume fast food should remember that their innocent love for deep-fried potatoes, burgers, pizza, and tacos may turn into serious dependence. Garber and Lustig (2011) found that fast food contains several components “that have been investigated for addictive properties” and may trigger the development of addiction, though the rate of its progression significantly differs from the progression of drug and alcohol addiction (p. 148). Researchers also stress the idea that once a person is diagnosed with obesity, the individual’s diet may cause stress that will contribute to addictive overeating (Garber & Lustig, 2011). Since obesity and the risk of fast-food addiction have become two of the main concerns of society, the U.S. government has been pursuing various policies in order to reduce the adverse effects of fast-food consumption.
Assuming that people consume an excess number of calories because of the limited awareness of the calorie content of fast foods, the U.S. Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, obliging all big chain restaurants to publish calorie content on their menus. This policy seems to be reasonable, since both adults and adolescents, not to mention children, often do not count calories, or they may underestimate the number of calories in fast food. Block et al. (2013) conducted a study of 3,000 diners in six fast-food restaurant chains and found that the majority of their customers “underestimated the calories of meals, especially if the meal was large” (p. 6). Such results allow considering that the Affordable Care Act may help increase the awareness of people and show them the importance of calorie counting. Namba’s (2013) research stresses the importance of the Affordable Care Act, considering the issue from a different angle as it expresses the idea that the legislation affects not only consumer behavior but also the fast-food industry (p. 2). Indeed, negative consumer references that may be influenced by a high-calorie menu are helping to motivate restaurant owners to offer lower-calorie items and alter portion sizes and methods of preparation, as well as include healthier dishes on their menus. As a result of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, as Namba (2013) states, “on average, calories for fast-food chain restaurants decreased by 19 kilocalories” (p. 7). Thus, the policy approach to the prevention of obesity and fast-food addiction has proven to be effective.
Although the fast-food industry remains successful because people are attracted to a large number of its items due to various reasons such as saving time and effort, society should find ways to control the unlimited consumption of fast food in order to avoid its adverse effects on health. Ubiquitous, aggressive advertising of fast food and a lack of time to prepare healthy meals are factors that lead to the development of such diseases as obesity and fast-food addiction. Fortunately, the U.S. government has already put in motion a policy that helps to improve the situation by passing the Affordable Care Act, obliging restaurants to put calorie numbers on their menus. It seems to be the right course because if society ignores the problems caused by fast-food consumption, the situation will only worsen over time. Luckily, at the present time, not only governmental policies but also the growing healthy lifestyle trend are contributing to the reduction of the number of fast-food consumers.
Block, J. P., Condon, S. K., Kleinman, K., Mullen, J., Linakis, S., Rifas-Shiman, S., & Gillman, M. W. (2013). Consumers’ estimation of calorie content at fast food restaurants: Cross sectional observational study. BMJ, 346, f2907.
Boyland, E. J., & Halford, J. C. (2013). Television advertising and branding. Effects on eating behaviour and food preferences in children. Appetite, 62, 236-241.
Finkelstein, E. A., Khavjou, O. A., Thompson, H., Trogdon, J. G., Pan, L., Sherry, B., & Dietz, W. (2012). Obesity and severe obesity forecasts through 2030. American journal of preventive medicine, 42(6), 563-570.
Garber, K. A., & Lustig, R. H. (2011). Is fast food addictive? Current drug abuse reviews, 4(3), 146-162.
Garcia, G., Sunil, T. S., & Hinojosa, P. (2012). The fast food and obesity link: Consumption patterns and severity of obesity. Obesity surgery, 22(5), 810-818.
Lichtenberg, A. L. (2012). A historical review of five of the top fast food restaurant chains to determine the secrets of their success (Senior thesis, Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, CA). Web.
Namba, A. (2013). Exploratory analysis of fast-food chain restaurant menus before and after implementation of local calorie-labeling policies, 2005–2011. Preventing chronic disease, 10, 1-8.
Richardson, A. S., Boone-Heinonen, J., Popkin, B. M., & Gordon-Larsen, P. (2011). Neighborhood fast food restaurants and fast food consumption: A national study. BMC Public Health, 11(1), 1-8.
Schlosser, E. (2012). Fast food nation: The dark side of the all-American meal. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Van der Horst, K., Brunner, T. A., & Siegrist, M. (2011). Fast food and take‐away food consumption are associated with different lifestyle characteristics. Journal of human nutrition and dietetics, 24(6), 596-602.