Government, Fast Food and American Obesity

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5 March 2013

Government, Fast Food and American Obesity
Should the government get involved in controlling what food options are available to American consumers in an effort to fight the war on obesity? The obesity rate for Americans today has almost doubled compared to the rate in 1997 (CDC, 2012). Some believe this increase, especially in children, has to do with the increase in so many unhealthy fast food restaurants (Chou et al, 2010). However, does the government have the right to tell fast food restaurants what to serve or tell people what to eat? It would seem to be the individual's responsibility to take charge of his or her own health, yet obesity is rising and leading to more health issues. Therefore, government should step-in by restricting the amount of high volume fat, sodium, and other unhealthy ingredients served in fast food restaurants, by requiring the calories to be clearly listed, and by providing more education for people because these changes will have a positive effect on the health and choices of consumers.

First, the government should restrict the amount of fat, sodium and sugar used in certain fast food items, as well as educate people about the harmful effects of consuming processed foods in high quantities. The government could set guidelines for how much is used in a menu item. For example, a McDonald's cheeseburger contains 810 mg. of salt when the American Heart Association suggests a daily adult intake of no more than 1500 mg. (AHA, 2013). Does McDonald's really need to use so much salt in one burger? With two cheeseburgers, an adult is already over the recommended intake. What about children, whose bodies are smaller and still developing? According to the AHA, “97% of children and adolescents eat too much salt, putting them at risk for cardiovascular diseases when they get older” (AHA, 2013). According to the Harvard School of Public Health, processed foods, fried foods, foods high in fat, cholesterol, sugar, carbohydrates and salt contribute to obesity (2013). All of these ingredients tip the scale in fast food restaurants which deep fry many of their items. Obesity is a condition which causes many serious health issues such as diabetes and heart disease (JAMA, 2012). In addition, fast food is known for its large “super size” portions, meaning an even higher calorie content, so customers are consuming large amounts of these unhealthy ingredients. In the same Harvard article, “Frequent fast-food consumption contributes to overeating and weight gain” (p. 61-66, 2013). Scientists did a study and followed 3,000 young adults for 13 years and found that people who ate more fast-food in the beginning of the study weighed about 13 pounds more than people who ate less fast food. They also had higher triglycerides, which double the odds of developing heart disease and diabetes (p. 62, 2013).

Second, the government should require that fast food restaurants list their calories in an easy to calculate way. According to David Zinczenko in “Don't Blame the Eater,” fast food restaurants rarely give out clear information to the public about the calorie information for their menu items, and if they do, the information about calories per ingredient is confusing for people 2002). With one salad and all the toppings, people can easily end up consuming more than half of what's recommended as the 2000 calorie daily intake (Zinczenko, 2002). In this case, people may not know how much calories they are taking in their bodies by eating a fast food meal.

Lastly, teaching people the negative effects of fast food and the concept of healthy food can have a very positive effect on people's health and choices. This is another responsibility of the government; they should change the concept of food in order to help people not get fat and decrease the rate of obesity. According to Junking Junk Food, written by Judith Warner, "Declaring War on unhealthy eating, especially by...
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