Fast food, being rich on sugar and fats, is an unhealthy choice that contributes to the rise of obesity rates and associated health problems. Fast food has supporters as well as opponents, and both sides can draw solid arguments in support of their positions. However, it cannot be denied that obesity rates are growing in parallel with the growth of fast food popularity. Only a preconceived mind can refute the relation between the two facts. Fast food not only offers increased quantities of sugar, soda, fat, and calories, but also allows taking as little physical effort for obtaining a meal as possible. As a result, fast food can be blamed for many of the diseases that its consumers have to suffer.
In the United States, fast food has become a part of the American lifestyle. As many as nearly 50,000 fast food chains offer their services across the U.S., and McDonald has become one of the most popular images in America. An image of Ronald McDonald is recognized by 96 percent of schoolchildren; only Santa Claus ranked higher in popularity (Ransohoff). Kelly Brownell, a Yale University psychology professor, calls it “toxic food environment”, or the environment where unhealthy food is ubiquitous with fast food restaurants and burger advertising being constantly present everywhere: on television, along the roadways, in magazines, and stores (Murray 33). In such an environment, people cannot escape the image of a burger and often cannot help eating it. As a result, Americans’ expenditures on fast food have risen from $6 billion in 1970 to $112 billion in the 2000s (Fry 68).
Fast food can have a devastating impact on health because it usually contains much fat, sodium, calories, and cholesterol (“Fast Food Facts”). Harmfulness of fast food is not a new idea; hamburgers were considered as unhealthy from the very beginning because of the contents of the ground meat and the doubtful cleanliness of manufacturing (Smith 124). The problem of cleanliness has been resolved since then, but the concern about the contents is only rising. The popularity of fast food relies on its affordability. It is usually inexpensive, but the price that health has to pay for this cheapness is high. To keep the costs low, fast food is usually produced with cheaper ingredients. Refined grains, high fat meat, added sugar and fat cost less than lean meat and fresh fruits and vegetables, but they are incomparably less nutritious (“Fast Food Facts”). These ingredients are harmful for human health being the causes of numerous diseases including obesity and type-2 diabetes.
An experiment conducted by a filmmaker Morgan Spurlock proved the harmfulness of fast food for health. In February 2003, he set to eat nothing but fast food for a month. During thirty days of the experiment, he had every meal in McDonalds and ordered mainly super-sized portions. By the end of the experiment, he gained 25 pounds (11 kilograms), his cholesterol increased significantly, his lever was damaged, and he felt tired all the time (Watson 4-5). Thus, his self-sacrificing experiment proved that the excess consumption of fast food can ruin health.
According to Brownell, environment is what drives the problem of obesity (Murray 33). Some researchers even blame the American fast food culture for the growing global obesity crisis that is considered to be related with the expansion of American fast food chains (Smith 75). In the U.S., a rise of obesity rates from 12 percent to 20 percent since 1991 has been reported. At the same time, as much as 25 percent of American children are now classified as overweight (Smith 201). This epidemic is directly related to fast food consumption, as the simultaneous rise in obesity rates and in expenditures on fast food cannot be a mere coincidence. Fast food is high in refined sugar and cholesterol, which both cause health problems and contribute to obesity (Smith 105, 258).
The results of a 15-year study conducted by the University of Minnesota together with Children’s Hospital in Boston provided an irrefutable argument for the opponents of fast food. The research proved that fast food consumption leads to obesity and increases the risk of type-2 diabetes. Nearly 3,000 Americans took part in the study. Participants who ate frequently at fast food restaurants gained in weight about ten pounds more than those who ate fast food once a week or less. They also had insulin resistance increased, which could lead to type-2 diabetes (Macmillan 95). What is important, the study revealed the harmfulness not of a burger as it is but of fast food industry. As it appeared, a fast food burger contains significantly more fat than a regular burger from an average sit-down restaurant – up to 70 grams compared with about only 15 grams (Macmillan 96).
Thus, the relation between fast food consumption and obesity is a proved scientific fact. Obesity, in its turn, can be the cause of multiple related diseases. Encyclopedia of Junk Food and Fast Food lists the following consequent effects of obesity: “high blood pressure, arthritis, infertility, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, strokes, birth defects, gallbladder disease, gout, impaired immune system, liver disease, and breast, prostate, and colon cancer” (Smith 201). Fast food, being one of the primary causes of obesity, is also the remote cause of all these diseases.
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However, the relation between fast food consumption and obesity-related problems is not universally recognized. Many state that problems can arise only in case of excessive fast food consumption and over a long period of time, and a burger every now and then cannot do any serious harm to health (“Fast Food Facts”). After having described Spurlock’s experiment, Watson remarks that it does not prove that fast food in general is unhealthy because eating it for every meal is quite extreme and people usually eat much less than that (Watson 6). However, it is worthy to remind about the findings of the University of Minnesota study that revealed harmfulness of having fast food meal as rarely as twice a week.
It is true that most of fast food restaurants now offer healthier dishes that even a vegetarian can safely eat (Fry). However, fried potatoes and hamburgers still remain the most attractive for the consumers, and they are advertised heavily. “Toxic food environment” does not seem to change, and eating unhealthy food is still promoted by the producers and advertisers.
In defense of fast food, its convenience is often underlined. Indeed, nowadays people do not have much time for cooking. As a group of scientists and policy experts say, it is unrealistic to expect that people will be cooking everything from scratch (“'Not all' fast food unhealthy”). Besides, harmfulness of fast food is often considered to be serious only in case when it is consumed often and in high quantities (“'Not all' fast food unhealthy”). However, nobody knows the minimum quantity of fast food that is agreeable; therefore, the pursuit of convenience and desire to save time can finally lead to serious health problems.
Therefore, harmfulness of fast food is a proved fact. The University of Minnesota study provides a scientific argument for this position. Spurlock’s experiment is also a vivid example of fast food effects on health. The correlation between fast food consumption and increasing rates of obesity is also evident. Of course, the matter of quantity of fast food is important. Eating one burger a month can hardly have any serious impact on health. However, nobody knows where the critical line is and how many burgers or fried potatoes can damage health. Finally, there are several studies of harmful effects of fast food on health none at all that would prove its health benefit. Therefore, it is better to avoid unhealthy food.