Teen Heath & Wellness

Fast Food

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Fast Food Today

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Health experts have been saying for years that fast food is bad for people. In February 2003, a filmmaker named Morgan Spurlock decided to perform an experiment to see if that claim was true. He wanted to find out what would happen to his body if he ate nothing but fast food for thirty days.

Spurlock ate every breakfast, lunch, and dinner at McDonald’s. He ate everything on the menu at least once, including hamburgers, french fries, and chicken nuggets. Anytime the person behind the counter asked if he wanted the biggest—“Supersize”—meal, he said yes. Spurlock and his doctors tracked what happened to his body. He made a movie of the whole experience, called Super Size Me (2004).

At the end of one month, Spurlock’s body had changed significantly. He had gained twenty-five pounds (eleven kilograms). He felt tired all the time, and his cholesterol—the fatlike substance that clogs arteries and can lead to heart attacks—had skyrocketed. He had more of the fats called triglycerides in his blood, and his liver was damaged. His doctor told him that if he didn’t stop his experiment soon, he could die.

Spurlock’s movie received much attention from film critics and moviegoers. It also caused quite a bit of debate. Health experts said it proved that fast food is unhealthy. People in the fast-food business said it was just a crazy stunt Spurlock did to get people to see his film. What happened to Morgan Spurlock’s body doesn’t prove that fast food is unhealthy. Eating fast food for every meal is pretty extreme—most people don’t eat nearly that much. But two things are certain. Americans are eating more fast food than they used to eat. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people in the United States are fatter, and unhealthier, than they were a few decades ago.

The Obesity Epidemic

Children eat five times more fast food today than they did in 1970, as reported in a 2004 study published in Pediatrics. Every single day, one out of three young people aged four to nineteen eats fast food.

At the same time, Americans are gaining weight. Almost 20 percent of children aged six and up were overweight in 2003–2004, according to the CDC. That’s three times more overweight children than in the late 1970s. Health experts call this big rise in the number of overweight children an epidemic.

Being overweight can lead to many health problems, such as type 2 diabetes. People who have type 2 diabetes cannot utilize the hormone insulin, which helps the body’s cells convert the sugar from foods into energy. When you are overweight, your body has more trouble using insulin. There is also type 1 diabetes, which is caused by a problem with the immune system that damages the cells that make insulin. However, type 1 diabetes is not related to being overweight.

Before 1994, only about 5 percent of children with diabetes had the type 2 kind. But because there are more overweight kids today, 30 to 50 percent of children with diabetes have the type 2 kind, according to the National Diabetes Education Program.

Calculate the fat and calories in a fast food meal
Click to calculate the fat and calories in a fast food meal
Why do young people seem to be heavier—and unhealthier—than ever before? One reason is that they’re not moving as much as they used to. They get a ride to school instead of walking. They play video games instead of sports. They also don’t get as much exercise in school. In 1991, almost half of U.S. students took physical education class in school every day. In 2003, only 28 percent took daily gym classes, according to the CDC.

There’s also the lure of television. The CDC says that young people between the ages of eight and eighteen sit in front of the TV for more than three hours each day. That’s time they could have spent playing or exercising. Watching television is not only making children gain weight, it’s also making them want to eat foods that aren’t good for them.

Selling Fast Food to You

If you’re like most young people, you watch a whopping forty thousand TV commercials per year, according to The Handbook of Children and Media. Most of those ads are for toys, cereals, candy, and fast food.

Fast-food restaurants spend millions of dollars a year on their commercials. In the ads, they try to get your attention with clowns and fun characters from your favorite movies and TV shows. They make the burgers, fries, shakes, and other foods that they sell look delicious.

Ads aren’t the only way fast-food restaurants try to get your attention. Many of them have playgrounds. They have special meals for children, and they put toys in their kids’ meals from movies such as Spider-Man 2 and Shrek. They do these things to get you to buy their food.

Getting the Balance Right

It’s hard to resist fast-food restaurants. After all, the food tastes good. The meals don’t cost much. Your friends probably go there to eat and ask you to come along.

It’s easy to go to fast-food restaurants because they’re everywhere. You can find them in school cafeterias, airports, malls, and hospitals—just about anyplace you look. Eating fast food is OK once in a while. If you make healthy choices at fast-food restaurants, like ordering salads with low-fat dressing or deli sandwiches instead of burgers, you can eat there more often without a problem.

Remember that your body needs many different types of foods to stay healthy. You need to eat fruits, vegetables, chicken, fish, lean meats, milk products, and grains. If you eat fast-food burgers, fries, and shakes every day, you won’t be getting the proper nutritional balance. You may end up with a lot of extra weight and health problems, just as Morgan Spurlock did.

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Article Citation:

Watson, Stephanie. "Fast Food." Teen Health and Wellness. Rosen, 2010. Web. 24 Aug. 2010. <http://www.teenhealthandwellness.com/article/395/fast-food>.