Alice is currently eighteen years old and she resides in Tyneside in the United Kingdom. In October 2009, The Guardian published a touching story on her plight: she has been obese since she was a toddler and her father died of a heart disease before she was born. She has been bullied by girls of her age and she reports that she is not sure whether she eats more because of bullying or the bullying is the cause of her over eating.
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The real pain she feels is compounded when she goes shopping. Her mother is not fat and so she comfortably shops at Karen Millen, but this store has nothing that can fit her. On one occasion, she went to Topshop to purchase a necklace, but everybody was staring at her and she was mortified when even the necklace itself could not fit. Whereas her mother is strict about her diet at times, she is not always around and she tells Alice that it is about willpower. Alice has just about given up hope for a normal life.
Karen Beach is 36 years of age, she resides in Hertfordshire, and four years ago, she weighed 17 stone. Out of desperation, she had a gastric surgery to dispose of the excess fat, which reduced her to a size 12. However, she was surprised to learn that this surgery was not a quick fix as the desire to indulge in unhealthy meals was still uninhibited.
All she could think about was the fast food restaurants closest to her apartment and the candy at the post office or the sweets at petrol stations. She also concurs that she was so lazy that instead of walking to shops that were ten minutes away from her flat she would drive there.
Stories like these are becoming common and a trend is beginning to form around obesity. It is unnerving that the cycle is beginning earlier in life as time progresses with toddlers being obese. The rest of the life of such a child is upsetting as the child is ridiculed in and out of school, through his/her adolescence, and even in college. S/he never learns to interact healthily with his/her peers, as s/he always needs to be defensive.
Even when they mean well, s/he does not know how to tell their sincerity because his/her own insecurities are overwhelming. As s/he grows up, s/he eventually becomes desperate and goes for a gastric surgery. If s/he is lucky to come out alive (this surgery is full of risks), s/he runs a high risk of getting fatter because s/he is yet to discipline his/her appetites. Fast foods are proving to be a nightmare for people like Alice and Karen.
However, these are extreme cases and may be difficult to imagine, but they are glaring evidence of what has become of fast foods. Whereas these foods provide a cheap, tasty, and convenient supplement for healthier meals, the price to be paid may be one’s life. It is especially disturbing when parents cannot take care of their children’s health and start them off on a path that leads to obesity.
Thesis: fast foods provide the contemporary American citizen with a cheap, tasty, and convenient meal. They are the number one cause of all sorts of contemporary ailments including obesity, cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, and various cancers. Parents and educators should apply themselves to cultivating a culture of preparing healthy and balanced meals traditionally so that the next generation may not be ensnared by the allure of fast and cheap foods at the cost of their lives and health.
Problem # 1:
These foods contain above-average levels of sodium, (where the maximum daily intake ought to be 2200mgs), trans-fats, and other saturated fats that are responsible for increasing the cholesterol level and risking the health of consumers to conditions such as stroke, cancer, and osteoporosis (Genser, 2012, p. 444). These foods are cheap for their ingredients are also inexpensive, as they comprise of high fat meat, refined grains, and added sugars instead of the healthier lean meat, fruits, whole grains, and vegetables.
Kylie Kavanagh conducted an illustrative study of the exact risk involved with the consumption of fast foods on 51 monkeys at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in the US (Gosline, 2006). The experiment ran for six years, during which she fed one group 8% of Trans-fats and 27% of other fats.
The other group’s diet was similar with the exception of Trans-fats, which she supplemented with mono-unsaturated fats. The first group’s diet was primarily a depiction of the diet of fried foods such as pizza and snacks (Kimbrough, 2009).
Six years later, the Trans-fat monkeys had gained 7.2% of their body weight, which was primarily stored in the abdominal region as fat, thus increasing their abdominal fat by 30% (Gosline, 2006).
This element is a risk for heart diseases and diabetes. Kavanagh states that the other group had only gained 1.8% of their body weights and it was evenly distributed throughout the body (Gosline, 2006, p.2). This realization is a jarring depiction of the net effect of gorging oneself on fast foods, even in moderation or even with regular exercise (Teegala, 2009).
The effect of trans-fats is difficult to reverse as scientists in this experiment found out when they tried to prevent weight gain among the monkeys that were dieting on trans-fats. This scenario has to do with the working of trans-fats in the body. They not only increase the level of “low density lipoproteins (LDL), which is bad cholesterol, but they also reduce the level of high density lipoproteins (HDL), which is good cholesterol” (Micha, 2010, p.885).
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Problem # 2:
Breaking away from the culture of consuming fast foods is a difficult task especially considering the busy and fast-paced life of Americans. They work almost three jobs back-to-back and have no time to prepare a traditional meal (Brownell & Liebman, 1998).
Moreover, these foods have been elevated to award-cum-celebratory status meals so that if a child excels at something, the parents treat him/her at Burger King or McDonald’s or if there is some good news to be toasted, the children know something is up when pizza delivery rings the bell with a surprise pizza (Connolly, 2000, p. 2).
Finally, the technological revolution further exacerbates the situation, as tech-whizzes simply have no time for any other type of meal (Birch, 1998, p. 541). Indeed, doing away with fast foods shall require some genius effort and strategizing in order to supplement it with a healthier, and just as convenient and tasty option.
Presently, some fast food providers have realized the worrisome health trend of their products and so they are striving to improve or offer complementary vegetarian diets. However, this move is not good enough so long as they still sell food rich in trans-fats, cholesterol, sodium, and other unhealthy elements.
Solution # 1
The government wields immense power concerning the standardization and quality control of products. Considering that obesity has already been formally acknowledged as epidemic in the United States, it would be plausible if the government were to require strict compliance with the approved ingredients of any fast food recipe.
In a bid to contain the situation, the government’s willpower will play a central role. In fact, some states in the United States have already enacted legislations with this goal in mind for the situation is indeed grave, even to the country’s economy. Statistics indicate that the cost of health insurance for children and youth shot up from $35 million, between 1979 and1981 to $127 between 1997 and 2001. Presently, these costs are nearing $300milion (Pakhare, 2012).
In addition to the psychological damage that obesity and overweight causes, the effect on physical health cannot be ignored. Sixty percent of obese and overweight children have at least one risk factor associated with adulthood complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular diseases (Pakhare, 2012).
Twenty-five percent have at least two risk factors and this scenario is reflected in the myriad cases of stroke and heart attack suffered by young adults, which is crippling the economy as more people are incapacitated and unable to work. Their loved ones bear the burden of their incapacitation because they take up most of the family’s health insurance and require care. Fast foods are a leading cause of all these and more complications and the solution lies in changing the ingredients.
Just as the government is very concerned with quality control in terms of manufactured and assembled products such as chemicals and cars, the fast food industry has qualified for similar supervision (Glanz et al., 1998). Left on their own, fast food providers are running rampant producing all sorts of delicious meals that shall drive citizens to an early grave. It is high time that the government got involved in collaboration with nutritional agencies to regulate the production of fast foods. At a bare minimum, they should prohibit the use of trans-fats and excess sodium.
The justification of such an intrusion into people’s personal lives would be the doctrine of paternalism, which makes the state the caretaker of its citizens’ welfare. Just as it allows such a state to illegalize suicide, it can allow the state to regulate what people eat.
Solution # 2
Solution # 1 covers a lot of what fast food providers shall now be forced to provide; nevertheless, it is also prudent to encourage a culture of self-sufficiency in meal preparation among citizens. This move would see to people whipping up quick meals between jobs or while on the job instead of ordering in.
Advertisements could be used to achieve this goal, but a more direct way would be through the family’s influence. This assertion means that parents would teach their children how to make healthy foods that are rich in fiber and calcium and low in sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fats (Kimm, 1995). This move would cater for the entire generation and the progeny of the current generation.
Regulation of such a policy would be impossible, as the government cannot manually go door-to-door to ensure that parents are complying. However, the horrors of unhealthy diets could be taught at school, thus discouraging pupils and students from partaking of fast foods.
Moreover, the government could also introduce a policy that provides for the implementation of training programs at work to ensure civic education is spread to the parents. In a bid to grasp their attention, a glimpse into the statistics on their health expenses or their children’s health expenses in two to four decades’ time should do the trick.
Call to Action
Immediate action is imperative because research indicates that exposure to these elements at a tender age increases the likelihood of obesity and related disorders, ailments, and conditions in old age.
The cumulative effect of simply eating a McDonald’s or Burger King burger each day is multiplied a hundred fold if the habit started when young, just as the cumulative correction is a hundred times more effective if implemented in youth. Moreover, as indicated above, fighting trans-fats is a near impossibility and the maxim, “prevention is better than cure” captures the message of urgency on the matter of fast foods.
Fast foods are very tasty, convenient, and cheap, but they will kill the consumers before they clock 35 and if they do not die, they will drive individuals into bankruptcy as they struggle to foot medical bill instead of peacefully enjoying their pension. Therefore, a time has come for the stakeholders to implement mitigation measures in a bid to counter this ever-rising threat against the populace.
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