Column Fast food isn’t just bad, over the last two decades, it has gotten worse.
While you were partying away to celebrate the arrival of the New Year, you might have missed the latest study about fast food. Spoiler alert: it’s still bad for you. Actually, a lot of it is worse for you than it used to be.
Researchers at Tufts University took a look at nutritional information at three unnamed fast food chains (the Los Angeles Times thinks it’s McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s) all the way back to 1996. The findings? While we may think that our culture is a bit more health conscious these days, there has been little change when it comes to fast food nutrition, and it’s definitely not good for us.
“… among the three chains, calories in a large cheeseburger meal, with fries and a regular cola beverage, ranged from 1144 to 1757 over the years and among restaurants, representing 57% to 88% out of the approximately 2000 calories most people should eat per day,” said Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA, in a Tufts release. “That does not leave much wiggle room for the rest of the day.”
While a lot of this poor nutrition has simply remained a constant, some of it has gotten even worse. Fries, even the small orders, have more calories than they used to and many of the items studied contain more sodium today than in years past.
Okay, so fast food is bad for you. Don’t we all know that by now? Yes, but that hasn’t changed fast food eating habits. Americans get more than one-third of their calories outside of the home, and of those calories, 40 percent of them come from fast food.
For kids, things are looking really bad. Just last month we learned that fast food might in fact be making children perform worse in school, and that about a third of children in the US are consuming fast food on a daily basis. A daily basis. We’re on a track to being not only fatter, but less intelligent as well.
If that weren’t enough to get you pissed at the fast food companies, consider this: a recent study found that fast food chains are disproportionately marketing fast food products to black communities, who are at a higher risk for obesity, as well as to low to middle income areas. To the tune of $700 million per year. Imagine if every single fast food ad you saw geared to children was replaced with an ad for fresh fruits and vegetables. Or if that $700 million went to supporting farmers to get more vegetables into schools; currently the USDA has a program to do just that, but it taps out at $5 million. Just think what those additional $695 million could do.
Feeling a bit sick yet? You should be. This is why fast food companies are despicable. Not only is their food bad, but their corporate policies are as well. They continually feed us full of stuff they know is bad for us, and they’re happy to do it, since the trifecta of sugar, salt and fat is addictive and keeps us coming back for more.
While it’s a fact that poverty is having a severe effect on nutritional quality – in a system that has allowed “bad” food to externalize their real costs and keep the price tags for consumers low – as it turns out, it’s the middle class, not the poor, are the ones eating the most fast food. In other words, people that can choose to eat better, but simply don’t.
One thing is for sure: we have to start holding fast food companies accountable. If we can, we must boycott them; this isn’t just a choice, it’s a necessity. We must start supporting community programs that provide alternative, and healthier, options for all economic levels. Otherwise, the future looks very grim.
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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.