Over the years, obesity rates in America have skyrocketed. Is fast food to blame? Let’s take a look at obesity and fast food in America.
What is obesity?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity is defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation. To be considered overweight, you must have a body mass index (BMI) over 25. To be considered obese, it is over 30.
Obesity in the United States has risen dramatically over the years. Because of this, we are now facing an obesity epidemic.
In 2017, over 4 million people died as a result of being overweight or obese.
Oftentimes, obesity is the result of poor eating and exercise habits. In the U.S., less than 1 in 10 adults and children eat the recommended amount of daily vegetables. Furthermore, only 1 in 4 adults meet the recommended physical activity guidelines. However, many individuals lack access to healthy and affordable foods and places to stay active.
The effects of obesity
When there is an imbalance between the amount of energy one consumes and the amount of energy spent on metabolism and physical activity, obesity will eventually occur. The current lifestyles of many Americans has led to a severe lack of physical activity and nutritionally dense meals. Besides causing obesity, unhealthy lifestyles can also lead to a slew of health problems.
The CDC lists the following facts about adult obesity:
- From 1999 through 2018, U.S. obesity prevalence increased over 10% to 42.4%. The prevalence of severe obesity also increased during this time, from 4.7% to 9.2%.
- From 1975 to 2016, the prevalence of overweight or obese children increased from 4% to 18% globally.
- The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008. Medical costs for people who had obesity was $1,429 higher than medical costs for people with healthy weight.
- Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. These are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death.
Is there a link between fast food and obesity?
Scientists have been studying the effects of junk food and fast food on our bodies for years now. However, they haven’t been able to accumulate enough evidence to definitively say that eating fast food increases the risk of obesity.
Despite that, there is reason to believe that people who eat at fast food restaurants often have specific eating tendencies that lead them to obesity.
At the end of the day, a fast food meal often lacks the proper nutrition that we need and is overall, unhealthy.
Typically, fast food is high in:
- simple carbohydrates
- saturated and trans fat
Calorie break down
To put things into perspective, we have looked at the caloric breakdown of some common fast food items:
- McDonald’s Big Mac: 540 calories
- Burger King Whopper: 670 calories
- Wendy’s Bacon Deluxe Double: 880 calories
- Taco Bell Nachos Bell Grande: 770 calories
Next we will look at popular sides:
- Medium fries at McDonald’s: 380 calories
- Onion rings at Dairy Queen: 360 calories
- Regular coleslaw at Popeyes: 260 calories
And lastly, popular drinks:
- Large Frosty at Wendy’s: 540 calories
- Large sweet tea at McDonald’s: 280 calories
- Iced Caramel Latte from Dunkin Donuts: 450 calories
Because fast food is often calorie-dense, highly processed, and full of unhealthy fats; one could easily consume the recommended daily calorie intake in one meal (around 1,800 calories for adults).
Fast food’s effect on childhood obesity
Many fast food restaurants target children and adolescents. Whether it be with small toys or play structures, children are often attracted to these restaurants.
This can be detrimental to a child, as a sustained excess energy imbalance intake of approximately 2% results in the development of obesity over time. A 2% imbalance is as little as two-thirds of a chocolate cookie, fewer than two french fries, or one-fourth of a can of soda.
A need for change
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Over time, your small decisions add up. This is why it is so important to fully understand the composition of your foods and make informed decisions about your diet. To learn more about obesity prevention, check out this resource from the CDC.