It is no surprise that a large number of health risks are associated with the consumption of fast food. While fast food is infamous for its terrible nutritional content, there are numerous other health risks aside from excessive calorie intake. Ultius a comprehensive essay help guide as well as many other writing services.
Health Risks Associated with Fast Food
Every day, millions of people around the world visit fast food restaurants for quick, tasty meals without a second thought to the damage they may be doing to their health. While most consumers are aware that fast food restaurants usually are not the healthiest options available, these diners often do not know specific details about just how much sugar, sodium, and fat the average fast food meal contains. Fast food patrons are primarily concerned with taste, price, and convenience. Unfortunately, this convenience may come at a high price to one’s health. In fact, studies show that frequent fast food consumption can lead to obesity, poor nutrition, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Obesity in America
Out of all of the negative consequences associated with eating fast food, obesity is the most widely recognized. A 2004 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition revealed that adults over the age of twenty who ate fast food at least once per week had higher body mass indexes than adults who seldom consumed fast food (Bowman and Vinyard 164). A similar study published in The Lancet found that young adults who ate fast food more than two times per week over a period of fifteen years gained an average of ten pounds more than adults who ate fast food only once per week (Pereira et al. 36). Obese people are more likely to suffer from physical discomforts such as
- Joint and muscle pain
- A serious risk factor for life-threatening conditions such as heart disease.
A single Crispy Southwest Chicken McWrap value meal with Coca Cola from McDonalds contains nearly 1,500 calories; the average adult male requires only 2,500 calories for an entire day, and an adult female requires only 2,000 (37). It is very likely that people who consume three-quarters of their recommended daily calories in a single meal will exceed their daily goals and end up overeating.
Lack of nutrition in fast food
Despite the fact that fast food is laden with calories, it is actually a very poor source of nutrition. One of the key problems is the lack of overall nutritional education in America. A 2003 study including data from 17,000 adults and children published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association demonstrated that people who regularly ate fast food consumed lower amounts of vitamins A and C than people who did not eat fast food (Paeratakul et al. 1333). Vitamins A and C in particular are important for eyesight and the immune system; people who consume inadequate levels of vitamin C are more likely to get sick. The fast food fans were twice as likely to consume deep-fried potatoes and sugary, carbonated soft drinks as people who did not eat fast food. They filled up on saturated fats and sodium, and were less likely to consume nutritious foods like:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Healthy sources of dietary fiber
- Lean proteins
Although the fast food eaters consumed more calories, they were less likely to meet nutritional goals and consume appropriate amounts of vitamins and minerals. Thus, it is possible for frequent fast food eaters to overeat yet still suffer from malnourishment.
Key dangers of fast food consumption
The excessive sugar and sodium that fast food consumers ingest instead of vitamins and minerals are two of the biggest threats to their health. The aforementioned Lancet study found that people who ate fast food twice per week had double the insulin resistance of people who avoided fast food (Pereira et al. 36). Insulin resistance means that the body is unable to move sugar from the blood into the cells where it can be used as energy. This occurs when people consume too much sugar. Heightened levels of sugar in the blood can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes, a life-long condition that requires close monitoring and must be controlled with changes in diet and physical activity. If left untreated, type 2 diabetes can lead to damaged blood vessels, nerves, and organs. Eventually, unmanaged type 2 diabetes can even lead to loss of limbs or death. Often, fast food patrons have no idea how much sugar they are consuming in a single meal.
Sugar in condiments and buns
In addition to the sugary soft drinks that fast food patrons are likely to drink, diners at fast food restaurants consume high levels of sugar in condiments and even buns. In fact, McDonald’s Australia was forced to rework their bun recipe when an investigative report revealed that the buns had extremely high levels of sugar (Pereira et al. 40). The aforementioned McWrap meal contains eighty-eight grams of sugar. The USDA recommended daily intake of sugar for an adult male is thirty-six grams (Pereira “The Possible Role Of Sugar-sweetened Beverages In Obesity Etiology”). If one were to eat these meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, one could consume an entire week’s worth of sugar in a single day. In fact, if one were to drink a few free refills of soda, it would be possible to consume an entire week’s work of sugar in a single meal.
High sodium content
Along with deceptively high levels of sugar, fast food meals are also loaded with sodium. Excessive intake of sodium leads to high blood pressure, which in turn can lead to stroke. A 2009 study published in the Annals of Neurology found a one-percent increase in the likelihood of stroke for every single fast food restaurant located in one Texas neighborhood (Morgenstern et al. 165). French fries are particularly high in sodium and come with every value meal at most hamburger restaurants. Fast food restaurants have a vested interest in selling value meals because French fries and soda both have high profit margins. As a result, employees are encouraged or required to suggest to customers that they order or even upsize value meals.
These value meals, and especially the super-sized versions, are absolutely loaded with unhealthy saturated fats. Overconsumption of saturated fats can lead to coronary problems and heart disease. Diets high in saturated and trans fats increase the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood. This type of cholesterol can clog arteries and eventually lead to heart attack or stroke (American Heart Association). Most fast food options such as greasy French fries, hamburgers dripping with bacon and cheese, and ice cream sundaes obviously have a lot of fat.
Healthy Options at Fast Food Options
Consumers also need to be aware of the fat content in healthier options, however. Due to an increased awareness of nutrition and healthy choices, consumers have been demanding more healthy options at fast food restaurants as well as adopting low-fat and low-carbohydrate lifestyles. In response, these restaurants have begun to offer alternatives to sugary sodas and deep-fried potatoes. These days, customers can order low-fat milk as an alternative to soda and side salads or fruit as an alternative to fries (Pereira “The Possible Role of Sugar-sweetened Beverages In Obesity Etiology”). Consumers need to exercise caution when ordering meals that seem healthy, however, such as salads or wraps. Depending upon the contents of the salad or wrap, the seemingly healthier choices may actually be less healthy than the traditional offerings. For example, the Southwest Crispy Chicken McWrap mentioned above has more calories, sugar, and fat than a Big Mac. If a salad is loaded with bacon, cheese, fried chicken, and fatty dressing, it is not a healthy option.
Healthier options for children
These new healthy options can be good choices, nevertheless, particularly when it comes to ordering children’s meals. When ordering a children’s meal, customers can substitute a fruit cup for the French fries and a glass of milk or even fruit juice for the soda to make it a more nutritious meal. These healthy choices, such as in choice of school lunches, are especially important for children, since a 2013 study found that children who ate fast food at least three times per week had an increased risk of
- Chronic stuffy nose
- Eczema (Ellwood et al.)
This same study found that three or more servings of fruit per week reduced the severity of symptoms for these three conditions. Of course, children are also susceptible to obesity and poor nutrition when fast food factors heavily into their diets. Furthermore, regular visits to fast food establishments during childhood can become habit-forming, leading to long-term negative consequences such as heart disease and diabetes throughout adulthood.
Planning is key
Visits to fast food restaurants should be limited to no more than once or twice per month in order to avoid the health problems described above. Instead of fast food, diners should consider packing a nutritious lunch from home or stopping at a grocery store to pick up a fresh turkey sandwich loaded with vegetables. Not every visit to a fast food restaurant needs to be a health disaster, however. Consumers can plan ahead by researching the nutritional information for most fast food items online.
Some fast food establishments, such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, even offer clearly marked low-fat options (American Heart Association).
Diners can also make their meals healthier by skipping cheese and mayonnaise-based sauces and dressings, substituting fruit or a baked potato for fries, and choosing milk or water over soda. Super-sizing a value meal is never a good idea; instead, health-conscious diners should choose the snack-size options. Even most of the healthier options at fast food restaurants should generally only be consumed occasionally.
Frequent visits to fast food establishments can result in a host of health problems in both children and adults. The high sugar, sodium, and fat contents of most fast food menu items may lead to:
- Poor nutrition
- Heart disease
Children who eat fast food more than three times per week may be at risk of health issues as well. Even the healthy options on the menu may not be good choices, depending upon the ingredients. Diners should opt for grilled meats, salads, and water instead of burgers, fries, and soda. Ideally, visits to fast food restaurants should be limited to an occasional treat. Fast food is the easiest and cheapest option for students. If you’re a student, be cautious of eating cheap in college.
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