In another bit of good news this week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that Americans are actually eating less fast food. Since 2006, an American adult’s total daily calories from fast food has dropped from 12.8% to 11.3%.
This number, although small, surprised me. It is no secret that America is in an obesity epidemic; more than one-third of adults meet the definition of obesity with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher. In children, the obesity rate is about 15%.
Obesity is tied to all sorts of chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer. The costs associated with treating these conditions is close to $200 billion dollars every year.
So, even the slightest downward trend is a positive sign for the physical and financial health of our country.
What surprises me is that we have been able to turn the tide against two very powerful industries: fast food and marketing. We are the generations that have grown up with fast food and television, and their influences have taken a toll on our national culture and health.
Did you know there is such a thing as a “crave consultant”? I learned that in Michael Moss’s new book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. These crafty consultants know exactly how to create a food product that we will want to buy and eat again and again and again. Fast food and processed food products are actually chemically engineered to taste better and trigger our “bliss spots”—the point when the sugar and salt levels are just right. That’s just wrong (but it does explain why I crave Cheetos).
Of course, in response to public health pressure, many fast food chains offer somewhat healthier choices such as fresh fruit, salads and smaller portions. Market demand will decide if even more low-calorie and high-nutrition products will be available at the drive-thru window, and for the first time I am actually hopeful.
But does Taco Bell really have to pitch a “Fourth Meal” of chalupas and tacos to an overweight population?