There may not be such a thing as a free lunch, but there are plenty of cheap lunches. Fast food everywhere. Whether you’re in the heart of a city or driving along a secluded highway, one thing stays the same: the Golden Arches are always close by.
Through thick and thin, fast food is an undeniable component of Western culture and diets. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 36% of adults in the United States ate fast food on any given day between 2013 and 2016. Fast-forward a few years later, fast food became more and more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. A window to drive through a car is even more tempting when indoor dining is a potential health hazard.
Nor is the impact of the pandemic showing any signs of slowing down. If anything, the demand for fast food in the US continues to grow. The first quarter of 2021 saw fast food restaurants achieve a 33.06% increase in customer traffic.
It’s easy to explain why fast food is so popular. They’re convenient, affordable, and in most cases, delicious, too. It also largely bypasses the income brackets. A study published in the Journal of Economics and Human Biology, which analyzed the eating habits of 8,000 Americans of different income levels, found minimal differences in fast food consumption. Across all income levels, 79% of people ate fast food at least once a week.
Of course, there is also a dark side to fast food. The adverse health effects of eating these highly processed items on a regular basis are well documented. Taste and comfort are setting the stage for obesity, diabetes and heart disease tomorrow.
Besides the obvious nutritional concerns, fast food has also been linked to a number of surprising and unexpected negative side effects. For example, a study published in Psychological Science reports an association between exposure to fast food and impatience. Another research project published in Public Health Nutrition found that people who eat fast food are 51% more likely to feel depressed.
Even junk food can drain your brain. One study published in Clinical Pediatrics found that eating more junk food was linked to lower academic scores in middle school.
Are you starting to rethink your lunch plans today? We are just scratching the surface. Keep reading to learn five unappealing facts about the fast food industry.
Research published by Consumer Reports this spring discovered high levels of chemicals called PFAs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in the wrappers and packaging used by many national fast food chains.
PFAs are also known as “forever chemicals,” because they do not degrade in the environment, and instead persist for thousands of years. These chemicals are known to accumulate in animals, the environment, and even humans.
“We know that these substances pass into the food you eat,” Justin Boucher, an environmental engineer at Food Packaging Forum, a Switzerland-based nonprofit research organization, told Consumer Reports. “Obviously, direct exposure.”
The health effects of PFA exposure are still not entirely clear, but the CDC describes PFAs as a “public health concern.” Several research projects have linked PFAs with fertility problems, developmental issues in children, increased cancer risk, and impaired immune responses.
In the fast food world, PFA is used to prevent grease and water from soaking through wrappers and packaging. After testing 118 food packaging products sold in the New York tri-county in 2021, researchers reported that some of the best PFA offenders were Nathan’s famous two-sided bag, McDonald’s fried bag, Chick-fil-A sandwich wrapper, and Taco chip bag Bell, and a cookie bag from Arby.
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Over the years, many fast food chains have offered healthy menu options such as salads and fruits. One might assume that this means that fast food menus are healthier today than they were decades ago, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Over time, fast food has become increasingly unhealthy.
Scientists at Boston University analyzed the menus of ten popular fast food chains in 1986, 1991, and 2016. They discovered that most major fast foods, sides, and desserts contain far more calories and sodium nowadays than they did in the 1980s or 1990s. Portion sizes have also increased. There may be more menu options, but the overall nutritional quality of fast food continues to deteriorate.
“Our study provides some insights into how fast food can help fuel the persistent problem of obesity and associated chronic conditions in the United States. Despite the vast number of options offered at fast food restaurants, some are healthier than others,” says lead investigator Megan A. .
Added chemicals aren’t the only chemicals you have to worry about when it comes to fast food. We’ve already covered Chemicals Forever, now let’s move on to Chemicals Everywhere.
Phthalates are a group of man-made chemicals that are used to make plastics more durable. They are called “the ubiquitous chemicals” because they are found in a wide variety of products such as shampoos, soaps, vinyl floors, and children’s toys. Importantly, phthalates are also used in food packaging and food processing equipment.
Similar to PFAs, they have been linked to a number of health problems such as autism, cancer, and neurodevelopmental problems.
What does this have to do with fast food? Research conducted at George Washington University in 2021 and published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology found that phthalates and other plastics are widespread in fast food dishes.
Some phthalates are already banned in some products, so manufacturers use “alternative plasticizers” instead. The only problem with that is that these alternative chemicals have woefully not been studied. We do not know what effect (if any) they have on people upon exposure.
Larry Edwards, lead author of the study, said: “We found that phthalates and other plasticizers are widespread in prepared foods available in US fast food chains, a finding that means many consumers are getting a side of potentially unhealthy chemicals into their diet. side of their meal. “Stronger regulations are needed to help keep these harmful chemicals out of the food supply.”
The study authors analyzed 64 menu items (french fries, pizza, burritos, etc.) from six different fast food restaurants. The specific names of the brands were not included, but the researchers noted that their work included popular burger chains, pizza chains, and Tex-Mex chains. In all, 81% of the fast food samples examined contained a phthalate called DnBP, while another 70% contained phthalates DEHP. Meanwhile, 86% of the foods studied contained an alternative plasticizer called DEHT.6254a4d1642c605c54bf1cab17d50f1e
Why is fast food covered in phthalates? The researchers explain that chemicals often make their way from food-handling gloves, conveyor belts, and pipes to fast foods.
Fast food ads make burgers, wraps, and sides look absolutely appetizing. There is no fast food burger on TV that’s oily or sticky. However, the reality of fast food is often disappointing.
In fact, the more you unveil the world of fast food, the clearer and clearer it becomes that things rarely look what they seem. For example, did you know that Ireland ruled that Subway bread cannot be called “bread” due to excessive sugar levels? It looks like a fake headline, but it’s true. The total sugar content of Subway bread is 10% of the weight of the flour.
Another example: the vast majority of “grill marks” that appear on fast food burgers and sandwiches are fake, burned by a rotating brand, not an actual grill.
However, let us give credit when credit is due. Burger King is one of the few fast food brands that doesn’t lie when they say they grill beef (but may be lying about the lint size). Chick-fil-A menu items also feature real grill marks.
A recent University of Michigan survey reports that one in five American parents admit that their children are eating more junk food these days than they did before the pandemic. But the kids were begging mom and dad to stop driving long before 2020.
Historically, the fast food industry has always targeted children through the use of games, colorful advertisements, and collaboration with popular media features. And that doesn’t even mention the children’s play areas that are included in the fast food locations. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire industry caters to children.
One study published in PLOS ONE concluded that fast food advertising aimed at children emphasizes awards and movie associations much more than food.
Another report, also published in PLOS ONE, found that advertisements for fast food to children often went against their own self-regulatory guidelines set by the Better Business Bureau. Food marketing geared towards kids is supposed to focus on healthy options, but after seeing some McDonald’s and Burger King commercials for kids, a group of kids can barely remember anything about the ads except for games. Young participants only mention healthy foods presented in advertisements, such as fruit and milk, less than 10% of the time.
Recent research published in BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health also revealed that McDonald’s appears to intentionally target and focus on children living in low-income countries. Scientists have found that the chain’s advertising campaigns on Instagram in lower-income countries are characterized by more child-friendly posts and gifts and price promotions. Conversely, low-income countries also receive fewer Instagram marketing posts depicting healthy habits.
The study concluded that, “With the increasing use of social media, advertisements from fast food companies on social media may have unprecedented effects on food choices, especially in low-income countries.” “By targeting specific subgroups with child-targeted advertising and price promotion, McDonald’s ads on social media may exacerbate healthcare problems in the world’s most vulnerable countries.”