Do Fast Food Restaurants Promote Obesity?

The obesity epidemic in the United States has reached epic proportions. It has touched people of every age, socioeconomic class, gender, and ethnicity. The healthcare costs associated with obesity are at an all-time high. Obesity-related illnesses include hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, sleep apnea, and even some cancers. The finger of blame has been pointed at technological advances, sedentary lifestyles, and the food industry.  Who is really responsible for the obesity epidemic? Do fast food restaurants promote obesity?

Fast food restaurants have been accused of targeting the general public, especially children, with advertising campaigns enticing them to patronize their businesses. They have also been criticized regarding their ever-increasing, high-calorie portion sizes. The ease of simply driving up to a window, placing an order, paying for the meal, and receiving it quickly—all without ever setting foot outside the car—makes fast food restaurants convenient and attractive options for every meal of the day. While many establishments are giving in to public pressures and adding more healthy options to their menus, there are still unhealthy options available in disproportionate numbers. So, do fast food restaurants promote obesity? The answer is a resounding “yes”.

It may not be the restaurant’s intention to promote obesity, but it certainly is the effect. They are in business to make money in a very competitive industry. It makes sense that corporate owners would invest heavily in areas that will generate the most revenue: advertising, food packaging, food flavor and selection, and promotions. Partnering with children’s media and product manufacturers for licensing deals has proven to be very lucrative. The latest movie, cartoon, or television craze packaged as a toy/giveaway in a kid’s meal makes it difficult for children to resist and parents to refuse. Commercials that stress the challenges of households with two working parents whose children have hectic extracurricular schedules make fast food a seemingly convenient choice for every meal. Ironically, none of those ads use actors who are obese or are even remotely unattractive.

In Morgan Spurlock’s documentary “Super Size Me”, Spurlock conducts a 30-day experiment where he consumes three meals per day from McDonald’s. His aim is to measure the effects that fast food has on the health condition. In the film, a court document reveals that the McDonald’s Corporation openly admits that consuming foods like the ones on their menu could have an adverse effect on one’s health. However, eating at McDonald’s, or any other fast food establishment for that matter, is a choice. At the end of his experiment, Spurlock’s lab results were frighteningly bad. He had gained almost a pound per day and had done significant damage to his vital organs and systems. But, again, he didn’t have to eat McDonald’s food. He has many food options available to him, like every other American.

So, what is the solution? Because people have the right to choose where they spend their money, no causal link between fast food restaurants and obesity can be established. Fast food restaurants inherently promote obesity by their businesses practices. This is a capitalistic economy that functions solely on the principle of supply and demand. Fast food restaurants will only supply what consumers demand. If the people won’t buy it, the industry will have to adjust. Ultimately, food choice is a political statement. The power is in the hands of the people.

Source: The National Bureau of Economic Research: “Do Fast Food Restaurants Contribute to Obesity?”

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