Have you ever faced a situation where you have to choose between preparing a healthy meal and going to a fast food restaurant? Millions of Americans face this decision on a daily basis and the impact of their choices has become apparent over the last three decades. In the 1970s, the number of fast food restaurants doubled according to the Census of Retail Trade (Chou, Grossman, and Saffer). Since the same period, obesity and obesity related diseases increased rapidly in the U.S. Today, junk food is prevalent in our culture and is commonly found in fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and Jack in the Box, and large national grocery chains such as Wal-Mart. America’s junk food diet impacts individuals on a national scale and, inevitably, involves the health care industry and the government. In order to avoid the further degradation of Americans’ health, junk food consumption must be reduced. Healthier alternatives should be made more visible and more accessible to people who currently only have access to junk food to better the over-all health of the nation and eventually reverse the current trend of obesity in Americans.
There are a number of reasons for the long-term risk of eating junk food but the most important reason is the chemical composition of these foods and how the human body is able to process these chemicals. Junk food is characterized by extremely high amounts of fat, sodium, and sugar and is typically calorie-dense. On the other hand, healthy foods are defined by a rich variety of vitamins and minerals, low levels of sugars and fats that are easier for the body to process, and portion sizes that fit within commonly accepted recommended daily food intake levels. Junk foods are often cooked with low-quality oils, which result in food high in a specific type of fat, known as trans-fat. Trans-fat or trans-fatty acids, both lowers the amount of healthy cholesterol and raises the levels of bad cholesterol (Mayo Clinic Staff, “Trans fat is double trouble for your heart health”, para. 1). Food makers favor partially hydrogenated oils that create trans-fat because they are less expensive and are less likely to spoil than healthier alternatives.
Another staple of junk food is sodium, which is used as an inexpensive flavor enhancer and food preservative. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health Promotion reported that an average of 3,500 mg is consumed each day by a single person (CDC, Sodium and Food Sources, para. 2) when the recommended daily intake of sodium according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 say that we should only have a daily sodium intake of less than 2,300 mg a day (U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
The most serious offender may be the sugar content in junk food. The American Diabetes Association explained that sugary foods are called empty calories and are listed at the top of the Food Guide Pyramid because they do not have the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are needed by the body in order for humans to stay healthy (Geil and Holzmeister). According to Julie Corliss form the Hardvard Health Blog, an average American’s daily calorie consumption is made up of at least 10% sugar (Corliss, “Eating too much added sugar increases the risk of dying with heart disease”, para. 2). The problem is further compounded by highly processed sugars that are commonly found in junk food, which the body has difficulty in digesting. Corliss adds that according to earlier research, drinking sugar-sweetened beverages can boost heart disease risk by raising the blood pressure and stimulating the liver to dump more harmful fats into the bloodstream (para. 7).
It is essential for our body to receive proper nutrients, sugars, and fats through a balanced diet. Whole foods give our bodies nutrients for good health and vitality without destroying our body from additives and excess calories. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute state that healthy foods are recognized to have 12 grams less fat, 4 grams less saturated fat, 100 milligrams less cholesterol, and 480 milligrams less sodium per serving (NHLBI-CHD).
Given the documented consequences, people should think at twice before consuming junk foods. It might taste good for a few minutes, but the impact will stay in our bodies forever. Healthier choice of foods should be taken into consideration. Unless they are ready to suffer the risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, people should remind themselves of what excess fat, sodium, and sugar will do to their bodies.
The effects of an ever increasing amount of junk food being consumed by American can mainly be observed in two areas: personal health degradation and drastically increased health-care costs. Obesity is the most common harmful effect linked to eating junk food, which serves as a platform for other increasingly severe health conditions such as high blood pressure, clogged arteries, dental decay, and diabetes. The mortality rate is greatly increased when the BMI is greater than 30 kg/m2 (Swinburn et al. 125).
In turn, our health care system is tasked with attempting to repair or simply keep these people alive. The direct healthcare costs of obesity in the U.S. are mainly from cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes (125). With serious illness such as diabetes and heart disease, life-long treatment is often necessary. This means that impacted individuals easily reach their maximum insurance co-pays, which leaves healthy people footing the cost of treatment for completely preventable illnesses.
Several cities have acted upon this issue by creating policies that restrict the availability of fast food or by requiring fast food restaurants to post the calorie content of their meals (McBride; Mair, Perce, and Teret). Some might argue that in these junk food restaurants offers nutrition information and menu options for customers to make choices. They also argue that these restaurants serve a variety of balanced menu choices and have included meals such as egg, oatmeal, grilled chicken, and real-fruit smoothies in a range of serving sizes for adults and kids. We as smart customers, however, should be aware of tactics used in marketing. Their claim is only half true as the information are rarely posted in an easy to understand or readily available manner. Even when customers have this information, it is often misleading by using tactics like not including the nutrition information for the cheese on a cheeseburger or listing salad dressing separately from the salad.
Even when items are represented honestly, they are often too small to be satisfying, which ultimately leads customers to consume enough “healthy” fast food to equal what they were trying to avoid in the first place. If not, the customer’s options of healthy foods are extremely limited and they often choose to order from the regular menu. The healthier options are usually more expensive per calorie than the regular menu as well.
According to a study on the effects of fast food restaurants on obesity, the largest fast food chains have aggressive marketing strategies directed towards children. Surveys find significant effect of exposure to fast food advertising on overweight children and adolescents (Currie et al. 5). This creates a culture of adults preferring to eat fast food because of early exposure to them. A number of health and community-based organizations have advocated reducing food marketing of high fat or sugar foods and drinks and fast food restaurants to children, specifically in television advertisements (Swinburn et al. 137).
Everyone should think twice before deciding to eat foods from fast food. There are too much health risks to human life when consuming fast foods. The animal products used in production of these foods live in slaughter houses and does not received proper treatment prior to their death. Thus, it can lead to food-borne illnesses. According to Factory Farm Map, factory farms treat livestock with low-levels of antibiotics to prevent illnesses and improve weight gain. The sub-therapeutic dosages of antibiotics used on livestock create antibiotic-resistant bacteria which can reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics in humans when we ingest them (Factory Farm Map, “How Factory Farms Impact You”, para. 9). Michael Greger, a M.D., exposes that in a medical research at the University of Minnesota, 9 out of 10 chickens in multiple retail markets have shown evidence of fecal matter contamination and UTI-causing E. coli bacteria (Freston, E. Coli, “Salmonella and Other Deadly Bacteria and Pathogens in Food: Factory Farms Are the Reason”, para. 7).
Fast foods are quick and easy to grab which is one of the reasons why people prefer eating it. Not forgetting to mention that it is delicious and satisfying. Also, sometimes some people are too lazy to prepare healthy food because it is time consuming. They also are too busy with their work, so they don’t have much choice. In 2010, 53% of the food dollar in the U.S. was spent on food prepared outside the home (126). On a road trip or even during finals week, people will eat chicken nuggets, burgers, or even French fries as they easily do the rest of their activity without getting hungry. Eating junk food has become a habit and the only way to break the habit is to start building a new habit and as time goes by, the old habit will fade away.
If price is the case of concern - where people argue that junk food are much cheaper compared to other healthier options - it turns out that healthy grocery shopping are comparatively at the same price with junk foods. The price of eating fast food and home-cooked meal does not have much difference anymore. In general, despite extensive subsidies from the government, the hyper process food is still more expensive compared to home-cooked food. A roasted chicken with vegetables as side dish along with a simple salad and milk for about $14 can be served and feed four or even six people. A meal of real food cooked at home can easily contain more calories, most of them of the “healthy” variety (Olive oil accounts for many of the calories in the roast chicken meal, for example). In reality, most people can afford real food. In the United States, nearly 50 million Americans who are subsidized by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also formerly known as food stamps, receives about $5/person a day. This may not be the ideal case but it is enough for a person to survive. With this situation, money is not the only factor to blame regarding a person’s decision on what to eat. However, most people will just let their kids buy junk foods because it’s easier. With the lifestyle that people have nowadays, combined with their eating habits, more people could suffer from obesity in the future.
People need to educate themselves with the impact of junk food and the benefits of eating fresh food. Fast food does not always have to be junk. There are a lot of other options that includes fruits and salad bar. People can also prepare their own meal, which is easy to prepare like grilled chicken or even bread with honey and unsalted butter. If they are craving for burgers or fries, they could try making their own beef patty and if they really feel like eating French fries, they can bake sweet potato fries instead. It has fewer calories, no preservative and more fiber which is good for their health. Sarah Muntel suggests that limiting fast food intake in small amounts gradually make improvements to your health. According to her, significantly lesser fat and calories are consumed by simply packing your lunch a few days a week (Muntel, para. 16).
Other points of view will show that it is not up to science to tell you what is healthy or what you should or shouldn’t eat; it is up to you and they want no part of it. General apathy has led people to dislike fast food’s high fat content and remain unmoved by its effects on their health. Moreover, some people believe that although anti-cholesterol medication may reduce the risk of heart attack, but it does absolutely nothing for the urge to eat a fattening burger. So it does not cure the root of the problem. Insurance companies will allegedly drop people who have heart attacks and obesity related health issues because they cost the companies a lot. These companies, instead of dropping people, should provide them with medication, health care, and offer help to break their addiction to fast food.
Some people may want to have a healthy life but their socioeconomic situations don not support them. For example, people who have to work really hard because their family members depend on them especially those single parents that have many children. Their financial situation brings them to the habit of eating junk food because it takes little time to serve and the price is cheaper than healthy food. They also cannot afford to exercise because they are too busy working. They may think that it is better to eat junk food and get obese than not to be able to eat at all.
Furthermore, sometimes they know that it is wrong to always eat junk food, but they can't stop it because they are already addicted. It is because these companies have put chemicals in their food to make people become addicted. So no matter how hard their families and friends tell them to stop eating junk food, they will still do it because it is an addictive habit for them.
There can be several ways to eliminate junk food cravings for good. An ideal option in order to eliminate junk foods is by replacing the processed foods with homemade meals. Through this way, optimal nutrition can be ensured. By serving homemade foods, it can automatically help in cutting out the majority of refined sugars, dyes, preservatives, chemicals and addictive ingredients that affects the diet. Dependence on sugar will be lessened and healthy fats will served as the primary fuel for the human body.
Because of the addictive chemical in junk food, consuming junk food is now becoming a habit. Hence, educating ourselves with the dangers of junk food and start eating food that is high in nutrients are equally important. In order for the body to get obtain more nutrients, mixing up food choices can help in lessening the chances of eating the same food all the time.
More than avoiding junk food and fast food meals, a healthy and proper dose of physical activity should be adopted to prevent obesity and to reduce weight gain. Because obesity and weight gain is not solely caused by eating junk food but also with increased inactivity, daily exercise should also be done by everyone. Practicing a healthy lifestyle will lessen your craving for unhealthy food and improve your overall health.
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