For a long time, nutritionists have advocated for balanced meals. Whatever a person eats should supply his or her body with energy, repair and build new cells, and protect an organism from diseases. Therefore, there is a need for a human being to feed on a balanced diet, which should mainly have the following food groups: Carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals (Berdanier et al. 13). While carbohydrates are energy sources, proteins are crucial in the manufacture of new cells and the repair of the old ones (Krans). On the other hand, vitamins and minerals protect the body from diseases and catalyze crucial processes (Krans). Although people are aware of the importance of balanced meals, there has been an increase in the consumption of fast foods, especially junks. For instance, in the U.S., Macdonald’s and Taco Bell have gained fame because of serving this kind of food. As the number of such restaurants grows, nutritionists have advised people to be mindful of the nutritional content of what they eat. The proliferation of fast food culture has led to overconsumption of junk food, which has reduced people’s overall dietary intake thereby exposing them to health problems.
Definition of Fast Food and Junk Food
Since the definitions of “fast food” and “junk food” overlap, people use the two terms interchangeably. However, while the definition of fast food is more inclined to the preparation process, the term “junk” is mostly used to refer to the nutritional content. That is to say, fast food takes a short time to make and, thus, can be prepared and served after a customer has placed an order. Some can be made within a time span of less than five minutes. To the contrary, some junk food can be prepared within a very short time, while others can take long. Irrespective of the time taken to prepare them, junk foods have low nutritional value. Not all fast foods are junks as some may contain the necessary nutrients. In addition, not all junk foods are fast food; some may take long to prepare. Since the two terms overlap in meaning, people use the term junk to refer to fast food and vice versa. What is more, most fast restaurants serve junks. Therefore, this essay will discuss both fast food and what is considered junk.
As the world develops, people’s habits change. The economic competition in the world has escalated; every country wants to be a superpower. For this reason, everyone is in a hurry to save time and earn more money. There is hardly enough time to prepare “traditional food,” which is considered time-consuming. However, since human beings must eat, fast foods have become a majority’s favorite. Do people consider the nutritional content of what they eat? Most fast foods and junks do not meet the recommended nutritional requirements, yet people continue to consume them. As the current trend of overreliance on fast food continues, it is feared that people’s health will be compromised, which will be costly to both the affected individuals and the government (Magnusson 5). This essay will shed more light on the reasons why people consume fast foods and the disadvantages of such foodstuffs. In addition, the paper will offer recommendations on what needs to be done to discourage people from over relying on calorie-dense foods.
The History of Fast Food
The restaurant business is an old trade whose origin can be traced back many centuries ago. What was common in various restaurants in different parts of the world was that they mostly catered for travelers. That is to say, inns and taverns were associated with people who, for various reasons, were unable to be at home during meal time. During the 17th century, people started accepting taverns and coffee houses as convenient places for gatherings and sharing beverages (Wilson). Evidently, the first fast food establishments were meant to serve tourists and other travelers. For instance, pilgrimages who visited the holy sites regularly required to be fed, which forced vendors to prepare and serve them quick inexpensive food. With time, people started to adopt the trend not just for the tourists but also for those who did not have enough time to have meals at home.
In the U.S., the history of fast food and the invention of the automobile are inseparable. History has it that fast food was being prepared and sold to drivers through car windows since such people could not even have time to get out of their automobiles to purchase the foodstuff. However, some entrepreneurs saw an opportunity in fast food industry and grabbed it. Although many people believe McDonald’s was the first fast-food restaurant, what is recorded in the history books is contrary to such thoughts. The McDonald’s can only be accredited for perfecting the service and the style of preparing the fast food to what it is today.
The first fast food chain in the U.S. was White Castle, which was founded in the early 1920s in Wichita, Kansas (Wilson). During this time, people had a negative attitude towards the burgers that were sold at fairs, carts, and other places. Many believed that they were prepared using slaughterhouse scraps and low-quality meat. White Castle proprietors made a conscious decision to change the public image of hamburgers by constructing their restaurants in a way that people could see the food being made. In addition, they ensured that the color (white) of their buildings signified cleanliness to dispel the fears that hamburgers were unclean. The restaurant’s name, White Castle, was also chosen to reassure the customers that the fast food that the restaurant prepared was clean and fit for human consumption. The McDonald brothers also opened their refurbished restaurant in the late 1940s (Wilson). With time, the public perception of hamburgers changed.
In the 1950s, the fast food industry boom was experienced since other chains such as Taco Bell and Burger King opened and competition began to take effect (Wilson). The rivalry by the fast food chains to control a larger market share culminated into the incorporation of better marketing strategies. Fast food restaurants gained fame and became popular dining stops because of their standardized menus and quick-to-recognize signage. For the first time in its history, the Merriam-Webster dictionary included the expression “fast food” in its 1951 edition. In the 1960s, marketers started targeting children in an effort to lure people of all ages. Therefore, the restaurants included a children’s menu, which was a big boost to their sales since fast food excursions became a popular family affair. Parents could accompany their children to the fast food restaurants as a way of having fun and creating bonding moments.
Fast Food in America Today
Commonly Served Food
Fast-food restaurants have employed millions of people not only for preparation of the variety of cuisines but also to offer their much-needed services. Many people dine in, or take-out food from these chains and the customer base is growing day by day. Arguably, the United States has the biggest fast food industry worldwide with some of its franchises, such as MacDonald’s, operating globally. A wide variety of food and cuisines is served in most of the fast food restaurants in the U.S. Although burgers and fries have dominated the menus for a long time, the situation is improving, and more delicacies have been included due to customers’ demands and preferences. The fast food chains have ensured that the menus are stuffed with almost all foods that can be eaten using few cutleries. To sample a few, today’s menu includes pizza, hotdogs, onion rings, and cupcakes (Jeffery et al. 2). In addition, customers have demanded the inclusion of chicken nuggets, sandwiches, and ice cream among other offerings. For those people who prefer ethnic dishes, the fast food menus have taken care of them by including tacos, falafel, and kebabs. Other traditional foods that have found room in the list of options are Vietnamese noodles, egg rolls, sushi, and even fried rice.
Leading Fast Food Chains
The U.S. is a host to many fast food chains that perform differently. Although the performance of these restaurants depends on many factors, the number of customers is a crucial element. Consequently, the fast food eateries compete to have the greatest market share to boost their performance. According to Fitzpatrick, a Business Insider author, the leading fast food chains in the U.S. include MacDonald’s, Starbucks, Taco Bells, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Pizza Hut. For a long time, MacDonald’s have remained at the top of the list of the best quick-serve restaurants globally. One of the explanations for the exemplary performance is that the restaurant was among the first in the industry. It has been in operation for the longest time, which has enabled it to secure a wider market than its rivals. As revealed from the restaurant’s website, McDonald’s serve over 68 million customers in the more than 119 countries where the restaurant has established franchises. Since the 1940s when it was founded by two brothers, it has grown to have more than 36000 restaurants worldwide. In the year 2014, McDonald’s recorded U.S. system-wide sales of $ 35.4 billion (Fitzpatrick). Its menu has been a great attraction for its existing and new customers.
Another fast food restaurant that competes with McDonald’s is Starbucks. As revealed from the coffee house’s website, Starbucks was founded in Seattle, Washington in the early 1970s, 30 years after McDonald’s was established. As at 2016, the company was an employer to more than 238,000 workers globally (Fitzpatrick). Although its stores are known for selling coffee, Starbucks also serves other beverages, smoothies, baked products, chips, crackers, and sandwiches. The coffeehouse chain has branches in the United Kingdom, Japan, Mexico, China, and Switzerland. In 2014, its U.S. system-wide sales totaled to $ 12.7 billion (Fitzpatrick). However, McDonald and Starbucks sales in the U.S. in 2014 were higher than those of any other company. Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, and Pizza Huts were 8.5$, $8.6, $8.2, and $5.5 billion respectively (Fitzpatrick). As demonstrated by these figures, the fast food industry is a multi-billion sector that has a great impact on the global economy.
Reasons Why People Eat Fast Food and Junks
The United States Healthful Food Council (USHFC), a non-governmental body that helps to fight diet-related illnesses, reports that an adult in the U.S. buys fast food from a restaurant 5.8 in a week. In addition, the agency states that over 30 percent of U.S. children eat such kinds of delicacies on any particular day (USHFC). Why is it that people prefer eating fast foods in a restaurant than cooking at home? What tricks do fast food chains use to lure customers?
One of the primary reasons why many people prefer restaurant meals, especially calorie-dense is due to their taste (Clark). Naturally, human beings like the taste of fat, salt, and added sugar. Most of the fast foods are rich in these three attributes. A 2003 study revealed that fast foods are addictive: in fact, it was likened to drugs. Consequently, some people develop some dependency on some delicacies that are sold in restaurants since their bodies keep craving for them (Clark). The controversial study suggested that eating junks and other varieties of fast foods led to the development of “pleasure chemicals” that can hook a customer.
Apart from the taste of fast food, their availability may also lead to overconsumption. Today, fast food chains are located along busy streets, near gas stations, close to car parks, and other places that are frequently visited by many people (Clark). What may even pull more individuals to the consumption of fast food is the fact that they do not require a person to sit down in a restaurant to eat. One can have a quick bite when out on a business mission or even carry the food home. Some fast food can be delivered at convenient places such as an office, home, or in a car park. An individual seated in an office just need to dial the number of his or her favorite chain and have the takeaway brought to the doorstep. Online shopping has even made it easier to access food. A quick search on the internet provides a person with a list of the best fast food chains and their respective contacts. On the same platform, he or she can pay for the order using a credit card and within a short time have the food delivered to the preferred location. Since fast foods are readily available, people are forced to consume them.
In the modern world, people want to accomplish their objectives within the shortest time possible. However, such dreams may be hindered by time constraints. For this reason, fast foods are seen to be convenient as individuals do not waste time preparing the food and washing dishes. People do not have enough time to cook at home because, in many families, both the husband and wife may be working. In such households, people may prefer to buy ready-made food as their job commitments may consume all their free time (Morin 1). In other cases, individuals who live alone may choose to order fast food than cook since they see the process of preparing the food to be tedious. Warming the ordered food is much easier than cooking food for one person. Lifestyles are changing and buying fast food is becoming a priority for many individuals.
Another factor that has led to an overreliance on fast food is their affordable prices. Fast food restaurants have ensured that they sell a variety of foodstuffs at “pocket-friendly” prices. Comparing the amount of money and energy that a person may use when cooking at home, especially for a family with few members, buying food from a restaurant is arguably the cheaper option (Clark). Frozen and chilled foodstuffs purchased from supermarkets are considered cheaper than the whole process of sourcing the requisite ingredients and setting them ready for cooking. Some canned food requires just heating on a source pan and to make them ready for consumption. A person does not incur other expenses such as buying cooking oil, salt, and other additives, which adds to the convenience and affordability of the food.
Studies Investigating Reasons Why People Consume Fast Food
Affordable prices, convenience, taste, and availability of fast food were part of the findings of a 2005-2006 study that was conducted by Rydell et al. The research was aimed at investigating the reasons why people eat at fast-food restaurants and suggest ways of minimizing the habit. The researchers were also interested in determining whether such reasons were dependent on age, sex, or level of education. The study participants were 16-and-above-year-olds who ate in a fast-food chain not less than once a week (Rydell et al. 267). In addition, both the male and female respondents were required to be conversant with the English language, in reading and writing. What is more, the true intent of the study was not disclosed to avoid biases while completing the questionnaires. The survey tools contained items that required the interviewee to indicate the reasons why he or she preferred to eat in fast-food restaurants. Demographic information on participant’s gender, age, racial background, the level of education, and profession were also collected.
An analysis of the results revealed that the respondents ate in a restaurant at least thrice in per week. While 92% of the study participants agreed that they ate in restaurants because they were quick, 80% were of the view that fast-food chains were easily accessible (Rydell 2067). Apart from that, the taste was also a strong factor as 69% reported that flavor was what attracted them to restaurants (Rydell 2067). On the other hand, Rydell et al. report that the interviewees did not consider socialization, food quality, and the entertainment aspects as important factors that influenced their decisions to eat in fast-food joints (2067). However, a comparison of responses from participants in different age groups revealed that there were more adolescents and the young youths who thought that restaurants were good places for socialization than adults aged 55 and above (Lendvai et al. 180). Another reason that was cited in this study was the low prices of most delicacies.
In a different study in Singapore, Whitton et al. conducted an investigation to determine the characteristics of the fast food consumers. Their objective was “To determine the demographic profile of fast-food consumers among adult Singapore residents and ascertain whether fast-food consumption frequency is associated with diet quality and weight status” (Whitton et al. 1805). The study involved 1,627 participants who were aged between 18 and 69 years. The sample comprised individuals of Chinese, Malay, and Indian ethnicities, who were either regular or occasional fast food consumers as per a predetermined criterion of classification.
The study had significant findings on fast food consumers in Singapore. To start with, 63% of the respondents revealed that they consumed fast food at least once in every month. Additionally, 20% of the study participants ate in a restaurant not less than once in any given week. The former were categorized as occasional consumers while the later were regular. The researchers found out that fast food consumption was inversely proportional to age. That is to say, adolescents and young youths were more likely to eat fast food than those aged over 60 years. It was also found that the consumption rate varied as the monthly household income. The lowest income group had a consumption rate of 49%, while that of the highest earnings category was 81% (Whitton et al. 1806). Interestingly, fast food consumption also varied as education level, though it was more pronounced with the middle education category. In addition, more males than females reported being regular consumers of fast foods (Morin 1).
In summary, fast food consumption in Asia is more popular among the youths than with the older generations. Though this revelation is not different from what happens in the U.S., the motivators of such kind of behavior vary. While speed and convenience were singled out as the main reasons why Americans prefer to eat in restaurants, advertisements and westernization accelerated the rate of fast food consumption in Asian countries. Similar to the findings of the research by Rydell et al., the investigation by Whitton et al. revealed that socialization was a strong factor that contributed to fast food consumption among the young youths and adolescents (1807). A clean and comfortable environment can attract younger generations, who regularly participate in social occasions (Lendvai et al. 180). As the youths socialize in fast-food restaurants, they are forced to consume whatever is being served in such venues, irrespective of the food’s nutritional value.
Tricks Used by Fast Food Chains to Attract People
Although people may buy fast food due to hunger, restaurants have devised tactics to lure customers. One of the tricks used is by displaying food or pictures of favorite delicacies on windows (Waterlow). Considering that most of the restaurants are located in busy streets, customers are tempted to eat by the sight of the foods. Posters and billboards containing pictures of food can attract a customer who may not necessarily be hungry. The restaurants also provide enough sitting spaces for people to socialize as they eat. A comfortable environment for eating may make customers stay longer and, hence, end up consuming more than they had planned. What is more, a person walking down a street can be tempted to enter a restaurant by just the sight of people eating as a group round a table. Seeing food and people eating is enough to lure an individual to buy fast food.
The sounds and smells in fast-food restaurants are also a ploy to attract and retain customers. They can even make a customer eat more than he or she requires. The pleasant aromas piped in fast food chains enhance tastes and may lead to people making more orders (Waterlow). Moreover, some restaurants do not encourage table service; rather, they serve customers in queues. This creates an opportunity for those people waiting in a queue to see and smell what others have ordered. After minutes of waiting, the clients may request more during their turn due to the influence of other people’s food. Apart from the smell of delicacies in the restaurant, the slow music played can also affect an individual’s decisions. Some customer may stay longer than they had anticipated due to the cool sounds of the music. Extending the stay in a restaurant can cause a customer to make more orders, which boosts sales.
Another trick employed by fast-food restaurants to make people eat more is altering the customer’s perception of portion size. Due to the competition among the fast food chains, meal deals have become very common. In such agreements, people end up overindulging since they are served more than they need. Although a customer saves some money on such deals, he or she forgets to observe portion sizes. The result is over-eating, which has negative health consequences (Ladock). Perception on portion sizes is also distorted by the way the fast food is served (Waterlow). For instance, a customer is more likely to eat many pieces of chicken when they are served in one box than when the same quantity is presented in four small buckets. In the case where the food is presented in one large container, a customer may perceive the quantity as one portion. He or she may not realize that consuming the whole packaged is overindulgence.
Fast Food and the U.S. Economy
Benefits to the Economy
Although fast food consumption has a myriad of negative effects, it plays a crucial role in the economy of the United States. The only solution to the rising unemployment rate in the country is job creation (Mifflin 1). Today, the service industry is one of the greatest employers in the country since it creates jobs on a daily basis. For instance, according to Schlosser, the McDonalds’s creates close to 90% of all the new jobs in the U.S. (Mifflin 1). Schlosser states that in a span of 50 years, this fast food chain has increased its restaurants five times (Mifflin 1). Consequently, McDonald’s employs more than a million men and women in the various categories of jobs. The situation is not very different in other fast food chains, which makes the industry the biggest employer and job creator.
Apart from job creation, the fast food industry contributes immensely to the economy by purchasing raw products from farmers. For instance, restaurants require large quantities of pork, bacon, chicken, beef, potatoes and other products. For this reason, the existence of the fast-food restaurants is a reassurance of ready market for such products. As the number of fast food chains increases, farmers get more hope of a ready market for their farm produce. In addition, the growth of the fast food industry is also a boost to the economy since the government collects more taxes. Increased sales from the restaurant businesses create more money for the government in the form of tax and other levies. Such collection can then be used to develop the nation so that, in turn, more jobs are created.
How Fast Food Chains Survive
The fast food industry thrives even in tough economic times. During periods of economic downturn, people tend to buy more of fast food since it is cheaper than cooking at home (Burks 1). It is during such seasons when the fast-food restaurants increase their marketing efforts to attract more customers. For instance, the restaurants come up with better meal deals and may even cut prices in the periods of economic downturn, which leads to more people consuming fast food. The situation reverses in times of economic recovery since meal prices become less of a worry for the fast food consumers. The restaurants adjust their prices and menu as the customers have more disposable income when the economy improves.
Mergers have also been helpful to the fast-food chains, especially when there is a recession. By forming a joint ownership, the restaurants increase their market share and profitability and may gain more command in the industry (Burks 1). The resulting enterprise benefits from a larger pool of talents, and also an expanded customer base. For instance, the 2008 global recession caused the merger of Arby’s and Wendy’s, which made them to rise and become one of the largest fast-food chains in the United States (Burks 1). The two organizations combined their resources, both material and human, which enabled them to compete with other established restaurants.
Despite being the biggest generator of jobs in the U.S., the fast food industry has received a lot of negative criticism from the workers and union leaders. The restaurants have been accused of overexploiting the workers to maximize profits. What the workers receive as salaries and wages are not commensurate with the energy and time they spend in the workplace. What pains the workers more is the pay difference between them and their managers. For instance, Pizza Hut’s employees cannot fathom why they should continue to be paid the minimum wage, yet they are the ones who make the pizzas and even deliver them (Gaspaire & Wilsdon 2). Gaspaire and Wilsdon report that the current huge pay difference between senior management and the employees has persisted for decades (2). For example, in 1995, the annual pay of a manager at MacDonald’s was seven times that of a junior employee. For the current growth rate in the fast food industry to be sustained, workers’ complains should be addressed.
Apart from low wages, the fast food industry has also been criticized for not giving workers benefits. Since most of their workers are part-timers, there are very few opportunities for growth, yet they even work beyond the recommended number of hours per week. Gaspaire and Wilsdon report that even assistant managers in fast food chains are not provided with opportunities for promotions (1). Restaurant managers need to understand that worker productivity is greatly influenced by motivation (Dobre 57). Happy workers are diligent in whatever they do, and they serve an organization for a longer time than employees who are not motivated. Salaries and benefits contribute to employee satisfaction, a factor that is crucial in minimizing turnover rates (Dobre 57). Though an organization may not be in a position to give every a worker a pay raise, promoting a few employees is an indicator to the others that there is room for upward mobility.
How Fast Foods has Affected the American Culture
Fast food consumption is one of the factors that have changed the American culture (Pirello). Since the fast-food franchises serve inexpensive food, most people can afford to eat out. Before the emergence of the fast food culture, buying food in restaurants was costly, and only the rich could afford. Those people who did not have an excess amount of money had to prepare their meals at home. Families had enough time to sit around a table and eat as they socialized.
In modern days, fast food consumption has affected the American culture in various ways. To begin with, people want to replicate the way the food is served in all aspects of their lives. Fast food is served within very few minutes after placing an order. The quick services offered in the franchises have made people believe that all services should be provided in a similar manner. Consequently, individuals have become impatient as they want to be served very fast even in cases where that is not possible. People complain when they are told to wait in queues since they see it as a waste of time.
Apart from nurturing impatience, fast food consumption is also making people lazy. The fast food restaurants offer delivery services for the food ordered. This means that people do not have to walk to the restaurant since they can just make a call and have their food delivered to the doorstep. For instance, restaurants located in gas stations have workers who take food to people seated in their cars. As a result, individuals tend to live unhealthy lifestyles as not everyone can access a gym for exercises.
Since food is always ready in fast-food franchises, people are not willing to cook at home. In the modern world, every second is counted in monetary value. Therefore, cooking at home is considered not only a waste of time but also money. Not cooking at home leads to loss of family time. Parents do not have room to interact with their children in the kitchen or even at the dining table. There is a risk of having future generations who will not know how to cook since their parents did not have time to train them how to prepare a meal.
Another way through which fast food consumption affects culture is that people are not concerned with the ingredients in what they eat. Unlike food cooked at home, a customer has no control over the way food is prepared in a restaurant (Pirello). As a result, people eat ready food that has a lot of fat and preservatives. Apart from that, fast food consumers also eat meals that have high amounts of sugar and salt, which threatens human health. It is a restaurant’s chef to decide the ingredients to use when preparing fast food. Cooking at home allows people to make food that constitutes a balanced diet. In fast-food restaurants, consumers are forced to eat unbalanced diet since they cannot dictate the constituents of what they purchase. These are some of the ways in which fast food consumption has affected culture not only in the U.S. but also in other parts of the world.
Disadvantages of Fast Food
The growth and transformation that major fast food chains have undergone are an implication that the industry is expanding. The consumption of fast food is becoming more popular due to its perceived benefits. One of the reasons why the food attracts people is that it is tasty. Fast foods derive their taste from the sugar, salt, saturated fat, and other additives that are used in their preparation. However, the ingredients used to add flavor to the food exceed the recommended levels and may lead to health problems. The following are some of the disadvantages associated with the consumption of fast food and junks.
Fast food enhances the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and stroke because of being deep fried in Trans fats (Pietrangelo and Elea 2). Saturated fats are also not recommended for cooking, but fast-food restaurants have continued to use them (Pollan 45). These two types of fat decrease the quantity of good cholesterol in the human body and augment the poor one. Bad cholesterol predisposes an individual to heart diseases and strokes as they influence the functioning of the heart (Pietrangelo and Elea 2). The amount and speed of blood flowing through the veins and arteries is also affected.
Diabetes and Obesity
Fast food, especially junks, contains added sugar that is not good for human health. Sweetening food with sugar does not increase its nutritional value. Instead, it leads to weight gain, which affects the overall body health (Machowsky). For instance, added sugars enhance insulin resistance and increase the risk of type-2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease (McNight). Excessive fat in the body may also lead to overweight and obesity, which increases the risk of attack by diseases (Novak and Kelly 2346). In most cases, fast foods are served with sugar-sweetened beverages that add to the total amount of calories consumed per portion. Therefore, reducing the consumption of added sugars is the first step towards living a quality life.
A majority of packed and fast food contains high amounts of sodium as it enhances the flavor of such products. As reported by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, eating out in restaurants contributes immensely to the amount of sodium chloride consumed within a given period (McNight). Increased level of sodium in the human body may alter the blood pressure and expose an individual to the risk of attack by hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. Besides, excessive amounts of sodium are also closely associated with stroke and may lead to ventricular hypertrophy and kidney damage (McNight). Although sodium makes fast foods tasty, people should evaluate the health implications linked to its excessive consumption before eating such delicacies.
Impact to the Environment
The effects of fast food production on the environment cannot be ignored. In some cases, forests have been cleared to create space to rear pig, cow, and chicken due to the increased demand for their meat. Huge volumes of water are also required to cook fast food, yet this resource could be used for other purposes. Delivery of the prepared food and transportation of raw materials may require the use of automobiles whose exhaust gases contribute to global warming. Due to such environmental effects, minimizing fast food consumption can contribute to environmental conservation.
Promoting Healthy Eating
Evidently, consumption of unhealthy food has dire consequences to individuals, families, communities, and the country. The rising cases cardiovascular and kidney diseases need to be contained as they are costly to the government and consume significant amounts of family resources. Obesity and overweight among children threaten their future since they serve as predisposing factors for a myriad of health complications. The only way out of these menaces is to promote healthy eating and discourage people from consuming unhealthy food, especially fast food and junks. People should be encouraged to eat more of nutrient-dense foodstuffs and minimize the consumption of energy-dense products (Bowman et al. 165). The following are some of the ways in which federal and local governments can discourage the consumption and production of unhealthy food.
Reducing Access to Unhealthy Food
One of the factors that contribute to the consumption of fast food is their availability. For this reason, the government can regulate the consumption of unhealthy food by minimizing their accessibility. This can be done in various ways. To start with, a tax can be imposed on calorie-dense food to act as a deterrent to their production and consumption (Parker et al. 62). A levy on junk food can discourage manufacturers from making them and also the consumers from buying these items. The government should impose a tax on nutrients, snack foods, and sugar-sweetened beverages (Franck et al. 1949). For instance, food containing more than a given percentage of fat should attract a higher tax than those that comply. Such a regulation can discourage manufacturers and restaurant from making and selling these foods (Magnusson 4). If fast food chains will sell junks, they have to hike the prices to cater for the extra expense, which will discourage consumers from buying these unhealthy foods.
A tax on snack foods can also deter people from consuming calorie-dense food. Snacks are not basic needs, and people can do without them. Therefore, imposing a levy will be effective in minimizing the consumption of fast foods as it will make them expensive. People will opt for the cheaper, healthier foods such as fruits during snack time. Apart from a tax on nutrients and snack food, sugar-sweetened beverages should also be discouraged in a similar manner (Novak and Kelly 2346). Overconsumption of added sugar can cause an energy-nutrient imbalance leading to an unnecessary gain in body weight. Therefore, a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks will be a positive move in curbing the escalation of obesity cases in the society.
Taxing unhealthy food to eliminate their consumption is not a new concept as some countries have tried it before. For instance, as reported by Franck et al., Denmark became the first nation in 2011 to initiate a “fat tax” on foodstuffs whose saturated fat content exceeded 2.3% (1950). Manufacturers had to pay an additional $3 per kilogram for such food items. The fat tax was the government’s initiative to minimize consumption of saturated fat that is considered a primary cause of cardiovascular diseases. In the same year, Hungary also introduced a $0.04 levy on packaged food items that had high amounts of fat, added sugar, and salt (Franck et al. 1950). The Hungarian government was trying to reduce the rising healthcare costs that emanated from diseases related to the consumption of unhealthy food.
Still, in 2011, France was also concerned about escalating cases of obesity, which it associated with consumption of added sugar. As a remedy, the country decided to discourage people from drinking sodas by establishing a “soda tax” (Franck et al. 1950). The money collected would boost government income and enable it to cater for public health and arrest the rising cases of obesity. Franck et al. report that in 2003, states in the U.S. that had annulled a soft drink or snack food duty that was in place were thirteen times more likely to record increased cases of obesity than their counterparts who did not (1950). A tax is effective since it increases the cost of production that is passed to the consumer.
Consumption and access to nutrient-poor foods can also be reduced by implementing zoning policies that restrict fast food restaurants in a given area. For instance, establishments that sell junk foods should not be found near schools. In addition, mobile vendors should be barred from selling calorie-dense foods near areas frequently visited by children and adolescents (Novak and Kelly 2350). Local governments should also not allow business people to open fast food restaurants near residential communities. A shift from the consumption of unhealthy food to nutrient-dense substances may necessitate that junk food adverts targeting children be regulated. Marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks should not be done close to school grounds and amusement parks.
Raising Awareness on the Importance of Healthy Eating
Media campaigns are crucial tools that can be helpful in making people more aware of the dangers associated with eating fast foods. The government should be consistent in sending messages to the public through the media about the importance of eating nutrient-dense meals. Recent research has revealed that the media, whether mainstream or social, possesses the capacity to influence the public opinion concerning healthy eating (Arcan 1). Due to this, the government should launch media campaigns that explain to the public the link between unhealthy eating and heart, kidney diseases, and obesity. Through the media, people can be made more aware of new resources in their surroundings (Bodor 772). For instance, information about new farmers markets,’ grocery stores, and other businesses selling healthy foods should be made available to the public through the media. Counter-campaigns should also be launched in the media to discourage people from eating fast food.
Improving Availability of Healthy Foods
People are driven to fast food due to its availability, affordability, and convenience. This implies that without retail outlets that sell healthy products being made accessible, it is hard for people to stop eating in fast food restaurants (Drewnowski 76). Research has revealed that individuals who live close to grocery stores and supermarkets tend to have healthier diets than those who do not have easy access to such outlets (Parker et al. 6). This explains why low-income families are more likely to have unhealthy diets since supermarkets and corner stores may be unavailable within their neighborhoods. Local and federal governments need to formulate policies that can attract retail outlets in the underserved communities. For instance, tax credits and affordable loans may act as good incentives that can enable interested people to locate grocery stores and supermarkets in areas where they are few (Parker et al. 6). The more accessible healthy foods become, the healthier the immediate society.
For school-going children, it is important to ensure that they are fed with a balanced diet. Healthy eating for young children reduces the risk of lifestyle diseases at later stages of their life. The government should supplement feeding in schools through the establishment of more nutrition assistance programs. Organizers of programs such as School Breakfast and Lunch Programs and Summer Food Service Program should ensure that they register as many participants as possible (Parker et al. 8). Such strategies assist in ensuring that school children feed on the recommended diet for them to grow and develop as expected.
The growth witnessed in the fast food industry is attributable to cultural changes in the society. People have become busier to the extent that they do not have time to cook at home or sit down around a table and eat as a family. Fast-food restaurants have taken advantage of such changes and expanded their menu to include food that attracts people from all age groups. To pull customers, the restaurants sell inexpensive items that are served quickly. Delivery services after placing an order have been made available. Food can be brought to the office, home, and any other place. What is more, the fast food chains conduct campaigns to market their products and ensure that consumers are aware of any new addition to their menus.
Although fast foods have been made readily available, the public should be informed that eating them can have negative health effects. A lot of sodium, sugar, saturated fat, and other additives are used to make the food tasty. Excessive consumption of these additives may lead to cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, stroke, type-2 diabetes, obesity, and kidney failure. For this reason, people should minimize the frequency of eating fast food. The local and federal governments also have a role to play to promote healthy eating and discourage the consumption of calorie-dense food. For instance, a tax needs to be imposed on snacks and sugar-sweetened beverages to act as a deterrent to their production and consumption. In addition, governments should increase access to nutrient-dense food and conduct awareness campaigns on the dangers of consuming fast food. It is only through proper food choices that the society can remain healthy.
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