The fast food industry has expanded at a rapid pace during the past half century. The consequence of this convenience has been the rapid expansion of the nation’s collective waistline. Obesity, caused primarily by a diet high in fat, is spreading across the country at epidemic proportions affecting more than one in five adult Americans.
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The convenience of Fast foods are literally killing Americans yet there seems no sense of urgency to reverse the trend, no ‘war on double cheeseburgers’ though fast food consumption is a far greater threat to the lives of Americans than terrorism. Ronald McDonald is, in effect, an accessory to the mass murder of at least 300,000 in the U.S. every year. This fictional icon and the industry he represents are costing Americans much more than the price of a happy meal.
The Monetary Costs
Fast foods are the fast path to obesity, the precursor of many significant health risks which costs individuals their lives at an early age and costs everyone else more than $100 billion per year. About half of this figure is costs related to health care services, the other half in indirect expenses such as the total economic production lost due to time off work. The monetary costs are high but the human cost is a tragedy of epidemic proportions. According to a study by the Veterans Administration, a morbidly obese person aged 25 to 34 is twelve times more likely to die during that time of their life than an individual of average weight (Drenick, 1980: 444).
The Human Costs
Obesity initiates much more than just public humiliation, which itself is very harmful, usually causing serious psychological damage that lasts a lifetime. The physical detriments of obesity are even more severe. The condition dramatically lowers life expectancy and the quality of life. The obese suffer a greater number of illnesses, problems in bones and joints and the back region and are more lethargic than those who are not. Obesity is the root of many varied and dangerous health consequences, linked with at least 30 adverse health conditions. Arthritis of the knees, back, hips and hands are common ailments of the obese.
Breast cancer is twice as prevalent among obese women and men as compared to those of comparable gender that maintain a relatively stable weight as an adult. The obese also have a higher risk of contracting other cancers such as colorectal, esophageal, gastric and endometrial. The risk of cardiovascular disease is greater because obesity has a direct correlation with high cholesterol levels which blocks the arteries of the heart. In addition, the veins of the obese are more constricted which slows oxygen to the tissues of the body and prompts complaints of breathing problems, sleepiness and general fatigue.
Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?
The rate of obesity among youths is more than twice what it was just two decades ago. “Every day, nearly one-third of U.S. children aged 4 to 19 eat fast food, which likely packs on about six extra pounds per child per year and increases the risk of obesity” (“Fast Food”).
Childhood obesity creates many more problems than the simple physical issues one might expect. Being overweight can affect a child’s self-esteem, self-confidence, relationships with peers and acceptance of self and negatively impacts their academic careers. A typical cycle sees the child increasingly gaining weight as a result of the emotional turmoil that occurs as other children begin to make fun of them or as they perceive themselves not being able to keep up with other children on the sports field. They begin seeing themselves as somehow less than average weight children in every way.
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Many adults reinforce these beliefs with the idea that an overweight child must be lazy and not as bright as other children. Perceiving these impressions of others, these children retreat to food as comfort while still shunning potentially embarrassing physical activity that further contributes to the weight problem (Rimm, 2004).
Obesity is responsible for the poor health of millions and the deaths of hundreds of thousands every year while costing taxpayers billions. The effect of fast foods on Americans is clear; fast foods lead to fast deaths.
Drenick, E.J., et al. “Excessive Mortality and Causes of Death in Morbidly Obese Men.” Journal of the American Medical Association. Vol. 243, (1980), pp. 443-445.
“Fast Food Linked To Child Obesity” CBS News (2003). Web.
Rimm, Sylvia. Rescuing the Emotional Lives of Overweight Children. New York: St Martin’s Press, 2004.