Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles ... and fat

Tuesday , March 11, 2014 - 9:47 AM

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Morgan Pales

Are fast-food chains really to blame for America’s high obesity rates?

There are more than 300,000 fast-food restaurants in the United States; one in four Americans visit a fast-food restaurant each day. Fast food is now served at restaurants and drive-thrus, airports, schools, zoos, Walmarts, gas stations and even at hospital cafeterias. No wonder Americans eat so much of it — on every corner, there are several places to choose from.

Obesity is a ongoing problem that fast-food industries need to take responsibility for, something that will be passed on from generation to generation if things don’t turn around.

More than 9 million U.S. children and adolescents are obese. Almost one-third of youths eat at fast-food restaurants on any given day, according to a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Health. Yet a person would have to walk for seven hours straight to burn off the calories in a supersized Coke, french fries and a Big Mac.

Have you ever wondered what is in the food that you are putting in your mouth? The fattest fast-food burger award goes to the Burger King Triple Whopper with cheese, which has 1,250 calories, 84 grams of fat and 16,000 milligrams of sodium. Order a meal in any fast-food restaurant, and you’ll likely walk away with a sandwich, fries and a drink. If you had to identify the ingredients of this meal, you might list beef — or chicken — lettuce, tomato, cheese, ketchup, bread, potatoes and soda.

Not complicated, right? Wrong.

Burger and chicken joints don’t think of the building blocks of a menu item as ingredients. They think of them as compounds. McDonald’s famous Big Mac jingle about “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun” suggests the sandwich has seven components. Would you believe it really has 67 ingredients?

Clearly, fast food is more complicated than it looks. Many menu items contain processed foods, which have been modified from their natural state for safety or convenience. Processed foods tend to have multiple additives to keep them fresher longer. Across an entire fast-food menu, there are thousands of ingredients, ranging from the commonplace (water) to the exotic (xanthan gum).

Another factor with obesity is that children and adolescents are increasingly sedentary, spending less time exercising outdoors and more time watching television and playing video games. The Healthy Kids.gov survey found that children who watch TV for more than two hours each day are more likely to have an unhealthy diet, less likely to eat fruit and less likely to participate in physical activity.

However, 89 percent of children ages 4 to 5 spend more than two hours watching TV, videos or DVDs every day. In addition, it’s more likely that kids will snack on foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat when they watch TV, and many ads about food and drinks are directed toward children, the survey says.

Also, there is widespread speculation that exposure to food advertising may contribute to unhealthy food choices. I think we need to limit the amount of commercials fast-food chains can produce. Several countries such as Sweden, Norway and Finland have banned commercial sponsorship of children’s programs. Sweden doesn’t permit any television advertising targeting children under the age of 12. I propose that we limit advertisements that encourage unhealthy diets, especially those directed at children.

To those who think that what people eat is a personal choice, I agree to a point. Yes, McDonald’s is a fast, maybe even cheaper, solution to a busy night when there’s no time to cook. But there are options in your busy schedule that can save your kids the ridicule and humiliation of being overweight and obese. For example, you can always prepare dinner the night or week before and freeze it, so all you have to do is put it in the oven.

I understand that fast food tastes good or is a cheap solution. I’m not saying that you can’t eat fast food. All I’m saying is that we need to do it in moderation and not swing into the McDonald’s or Arby’s for lunch every day. You can bring leftovers or a sandwich for lunch, or if you’re craving a hamburger, make it from home.

The quickness and cheap price of fast food are nothing in comparison to the true price that we are paying. Four out of 10 adults in the United States will become obese in the next five years if they keep eating this food the way they are. Such eating habits are causing major health risks. And if the fast-food companies get to children at a young age, the kids will get hooked on the food.

Because of all this, people need to stop eating so much fast food before it gets out of hand.

Morgan Pales is a junior at Fremont High School. Contact her at mpales45@gmail.com.

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