Junk Food Industry and Obesity

“In the U. S. obesity rates have risen from 14% in 1978 to 31% in 2000…according to WHO/FAO in 2001, chronic diseases resulting largely from poor diet contributed to 60% of the 56 million reported deaths worldwide” (Lang & Heasman 2004:53). Both Canadian and American citizens alike spend vast amounts of their money on food and a significant percentage of that money is spent on low-nutrition foods such as fast foods and processed foods. Being the cash cow that it is, the capitalist food system has provided the opportunity for corporations to profit numerous types of junk foods (fast & processed foods containing high sugar, salt, fat).

According to Robert Albritton’s (2009:90) “Let Them Eat Junk,” he argues that “the consumption of junk foods is not the only cause of obesity, but it is doubtless a major cause…[and] obesity is something that we allow to happen, and while there may be many causes, [he] would argue that the primary cause is a capitalist food system that we have allowed to subject us. ” This essay will further extend on that argument and examine that the growing trend of obesity is caused by the fundamental principle of the capitalist food system, which is to profit from selling junk foods without considering the health consequences associated with it.

Examining why consumers eat junk food in a sociological perspective, the financial incentives associated with selling junk foods in a capitalist perspective, and the health problems/consequences from the consumption of junk foods will be explored. A solution will be provided in attempts to rectify the growing trend of obesity due to junk foods. It is vital that we also look into the health implications as a result of the consumption of junk foods. Most notably, the greatest risk being obesity. Public health is an important factor in today’s society.

Billions of dollars are spent on health care all over the world. At the same time, about the same amount of money is being put into a system that deters the health of millions of citizens every year (Adams 2005). In the present, the junk food industry is becoming a focal point in controversy surrounding its impact on public health. For example, “many blame fast food businesses for public health concerns, arguing that fast-food choices and large portion sizes contribute to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and a variety of other diet-related problems” (Adams 2005).

In 2002, director Morgan Spurlock subjected himself to a diet based only in McDonald’s fast food three times a day for thirty days and without working out. His objective was to prove why most of the Americans are so fat, with many cases of obesity (IMDB). He gained about 18 pounds over the course of the experiment, experienced mood swings, loss of sex drive, and nearly catastrophic liver damage. Spurlock’s body fat composition increased by 7 percent, his cholesterol went up 60 points, and his blood pressure rose from 120/80 to 150/100. Shortly after Mr.

Spurlock’s revelations about his fast-food experiment, the Associated Press reported that McDonald’s was phasing out its super size menu options (Hagloch 2005). “Super Size Me” (name of the documentary) was a great example of how junk food affects the general public and is also an indication that the junk food industry, motivated by profits and shareholder interests, has ignored its responsibilities to the consuming public. It is clear that there is a huge demand for junk foods and that corporations thrive on this demand by creating more and more junk foods. As a result, there are health consequences such as obesity.

Solutions to reduce obesity should be one of the main concerns in today’s society, however, to completely rid junk foods entirely need not be one of the solutions. The junk food industry plays a significant role in stimulating the North American economies. “Three-quarters of all Americans live within three miles of a McDonald’s, and two-thirds live within three miles of a KFC, Pizza Hut or Taco Bell fast food restaurant. ” (Albritton 2009:98). In addition, supermarkets in North America are one of the most popular destinations for consumers to do most of their shopping. Supermarkets play a major role in the American food regime since that is where 40% of all food is purchased. Supermarkets typically sell a high proportion of highly processed, highly packaged and highly transported foods. In other words, supermarkets are largely purveyors of unsustainable petrofoods and unhealthy processed foods” (Albritton 2009:120). Given that junk foods are a significant contributor to the North American economies, it would be unwise to completely abolish the production and sales of junk food in order to solve the obesity epidemic.

Rather, there should be more of an educational solution to fight against obesity. With the high demand for junk foods due to the fast-paced lifestyle in North America and for the availability of these foods provided by corporations that strive to gain profits, it is no surprise that junk food is one of the leading causes of obesity in North America today. As Robert Albritton (2009:90) pointed out, “…the primary cause is a capitalist food system that we have allowed to subject us. Although the junk food industry is significantly vital towards the stability of the North American economies, it would be unwise to rid the production and sales of junk foods entirely. Instead, the use of subsidy dollars to invest into nutritional awareness programs and the reduction in portion sizes for fast and processed foods are recommended options to prevent obesity. These steps may not on its own prevent obesity, however, these are one of many important steps in fighting against the obesity epidemic today and for future generations.

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