David Zinczenko begins his essay by stating that young people have started to sue McDonald’s and other fast food chains for serving food that made them obese, and that he agrees with them that their diet choices are not simply a matter of individual or personal responsibility. When he was growing up in the 1980s as the child of a single mother, he also ate two meals a day in fast food restaurants and ended up weighing 212 pounds by the time he went to college. He was lucky because his experience with the military and a health magazine taught him better nutritional habits but with most young people these are already fixed by the time they are eighteen or twenty years old. Youth obesity has led to an epidemic of Type 2 diabetes that was mostly found in adults in the past. In 1994 only 5% of diabetes in children was Type 2 but today it is over 30% because of higher levels of obesity, and persons with this condition have a shortened life expectancy and a greatly likelihood of suffering from kidney and cardiovascular diseases at an early age. Diabetes healthcare costs were $2.6 billion per year in 1969 but over $100 billion today (Zinczenko 140).
Fast food restaurants sometimes give out information about the number of calories in their meals, but this is usually deceptive and also omits the very unhealthy addition of soft drinks that are consumed with them. Nor are they required to provide accurate information by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). McDonald’s and Burger King alone spend over $1 billion per year on advertising, much of it aimed directly and children or teenagers, and their restaurants are often the only widely-available and cheap alternative available to this group of customers. He concludes that eventually they are going to be forced to put health warnings on their food and that they are going to be sued by state governments just as the tobacco companies have been, and that “we’ll see more sick obese children, and more angry, litigious parents” (Zinczenko 141).
Zinczenko is very clear in his thesis that the fast food industry is at least partially responsible for the epidemic of childhood obesity, which has certainly been growing in the last thirty years. He has marshaled a number of facts to prove his contention, such as the deceptive advertising and calorie information employed by the fast food industry, which is not well-regulated in this area by the state and federal governments. Like the tobacco companies, they are selling products that they know perfectly well are unhealthy, and asserting that the responsibility rests with the personal choice of consumers. Some of his use of language is also quite witty and memorable, since as when he describes how he ended up with 212 pounds of “torpid teenage tallow” as a result of eating so much fast food when he was young (Zinczenko 139). Although Zinczenko does make the point that his single mother did not have the time to cook at home or inform his about a healthy diet, he only addresses this issue on one brief paragraph. In the past when two-parent households were the norm and families ate together at home more often there was far less childhood obesity.
There were also fewer fast food restaurants thirty or forty years ago than today, but the more important culprit has been the demographic and economic changes in recent decades that have led to more divorce and single mothers, and parents working longer hours for less money. Children‘s eating habits are not being supervised as they once were nor are the schools doing much to deal with the problem. His tone is perfectly correct for the purpose of accusing the fast food industry of caring more about profits than the health of their customers, and on this point his case seems perfectly plausible. After all, they go out of their way to appeal to children and teenagers in their advertising and they show little concern about their health and well-being. For readers who are already unsympathetic to McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell and the rest, they will have no problem agreeing with Zinczenko that they should be sued, even though from a purely objective point of view he has not really proven their exclusive responsibility for the obesity epidemic and has glossed over other causes.
Zinczenko, David. “Don’t Blame the Eater”. They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Persuasive Writing. Eds. Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkstein. NY: Norton: 139-41.