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Is The Rise of Fast, and Consumption of Fast Food To Blame for America’s Obesity Epidemic?

Over nearly the past century obesity has been on the rise, afflicting one-third of the United States. And with the obesity epidemic, the fast food industry has dramatically grown over the past century. Fast Food is defined as foods that are cheap and produced easily (Rodriguez). Fast Food is also categorized as foods that are mostly “fried . . . high in fat and sodium, and low in fiber, vitamins, and some minerals” (Rodriguez). During the 1940s, fast food originated in California, and quickly spread across the U.S (Freeman 2224). As a result, restaurants and drive-thru became common practice, with big companies like McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and Jack in a Box. From 1970–2001 the fast-food industry “grew almost twenty times . . . from six billion dollars . . . to over 110 billion dollars” (Freeman 2224) Along that period of exponential growth in the fast food industry, the rate of obesity drastically increased as well. According to the article Obesity Epidemic, by Alan Greenblatt, during 1976 47% of American adults were considered overweight or obese, that number increased to 64.5% by 2000. There was also a drastic increase in the rate of obesity in American children and teens, ages 6–19 years old, during the same period. From 1976–2000 childhood and teenage obesity rates increased from 12 % to 27% of children and teens being overweight or obese (Greenblatt). As the fast food industry grew so did the number of Americans consuming fast food. In the U.S “one in four Americans visits a fast food restaurant every day” or 25% of the U.S population (Freeman 2224).

The nutritional value that fast food has to offer contains meager to no nutritional value. Fast foods are “low in fiber, vitamins, and some minerals” with the vast majority containing empty calories (Rodriguez). “Fast food is highly processed and prepared using standardized ingredients and techniques. . . . deep-fried in partially hydrogenated oils . . . which lead to high cholesterol rates and heart attacks” (Freeman 2225). One effective strategy employed by fast food companies to attract more customers is the increase in portion size, matching portion sizes in restaurants, and still being cheaper. (Greenblatt). These are being implemented very aggressively, over the past twenty years portion sizes have rapidly expanded “hamburgers have expanded by 23 percent . . . Mexican food by 27 percent; soft drink servings by 52 percent; and salty snacks by 60 percent” (Greenblatt). These were the results of a study in the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association). These changes in portion size may be a critical factor to why obesity rates have skyrocketed from 1970–2013. Another concerning fact is Americans are consuming a third of their calories outside of home (Mantel). People are consuming large amounts of excess calories, with little or no nutritional value. Large portion sizes seem to be assisting rising obesity rates and the overall growth of the fast food industry. Large cheap portions seem like a cheap deal to many individuals. Interestingly, “several studies show that low-income people have among the highest obesity rates” (Mantel) Perhaps, the poor diets supplied by the fast food industry and the amount consumed by Americans has led to the obesity epidemic being worse than it ever has been.

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