It is often the case that consumers get blamed for their poor dietary choices, such as fast food, when in reality the structure of society has a large contribution to it. Fast food is unhealthy – this is not a new concept and is not likely to surprise anyone.

As beneficial as the fast food industry is for creating global revenue, fast food is also associated with multiple negative health implications. The typically large portion sizes, combined with the poor nutrition and high levels of fats and sugars, are likely to be adding to the increasing rates of overweight and obesity. Other health problems linked with fast food are high blood pressure, heart disease, dental distress, diabetes and many more. Obviously, this is only when fast food is consumed in large amounts – fast food is unlikely to have significant impact on a person’s physical health if it is just a one off treat.

Consumers of fast food do not always know what is in their fast food or where it comes from, adding to the negative aspect of fast food. Using fast food giant McDonalds as an example, a few of the things people may not know are in McDonalds fast food – and may not be happy to know – include:

  1. There is sugar, which has links to being addictive, in pretty much every single McDonalds product. The American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 36 grams of sugar a day, and for women 25 grams. Yet McDonalds ‘Fruit & Maple Oatmeal’ contains 32 grams of sugar – more than a snickers bar, and a large Coca-Cola contains a shocking 77 grams of sugar.
  2. Artificial colouring is actually used to produce the grill marks on the burgers and patties and charcoal flavouring is added for the effect of being freshly grilled.
  3. Their products are often chemically sprayed before they reach the restaurants, as is the case with majority of fast food chains products – not detrimental to health but also not the most comforting thought for some.

It must be asked, if consumers were fully aware of the background of the food they consume, would they still buy it? The answer to that, is yes, due to the way that the fast food industry has been constructed in society.

An issue, whether this be intentional or not, is that many lower income areas in developed countries are swarmed with fast food franchises. These areas are often classed as food deserts meaning that it is an area, usually low income, in which many residents do not have access to affordable, healthful foods. Data from Public Health England showed that deprived areas ‘have five times more fast food outlets’ and that children from poorer areas are ‘more than twice as likely to be overweight’. It has been found that 17% of fast food outlets were located in areas of deprivation in comparison to just 3% in the least deprived areas.

fast food:low income areas
This is a graph showing the relationship between density of fast food outlets and deprivation by local authority

This demonstrates that there is a strong link between economic poverty and food poverty, as the lower income areas are left with less variety of nutritious food in comparison to higher income areas, hence often causing food related health issues such as obesity. Food is the ‘flexible’ budget item in comparison to fixed items like tax or rent, meaning that the quality can be compromised for cheaper options. Ultimately this means that food injustice is prevalent in these particular areas. As discussed by Peter Jackson, in this age of austerity consumer choice is affected by a multitude of things so to focus solely on the individual’s choice would not be representative of the bigger picture. When society is built with a lack of healthier alternatives available, it is clear to see why fast food places become so frequented as there is an abundance of them in these areas. Poorer families, larger ones especially, often end up relying on fast food as an affordable way to feed the family, regardless of the negative health consequences. Fast food is convenient, tasty and cheap which meets the priorities of many. For large families, people on the go or those on a strict budget, fast food can seem like the best solution despite the lack of essential nutrients a diet composed of fast food has.

Another key reason behind the purchasing of fast food is genius marketing. For example, the colours used in the logo’s, advertisements, restaurants and packaging etc., are all used intentionally to gain customers and sales. It has been found that colours come with certain emotional affiliations, yellow and red as a colour combination make people feel ‘warm’ and ‘cheery’. All of McDonalds’ visual advertisement campaigns, products and drive thru’s contribute to the consumption of McDonalds food – and all of these include the positively associated colours of red and yellow.

Also, it is common for fast food chains to collaborate with children’s movies and toys etc. to lure in youngsters and families. Happy meals from McDonalds are a classic example of this as they give away free toys in the boxes.  mcdonalds happymealA data research firm, Sense360, calculated that around 3.2 million Happy Meals are sold each day around the world – all full of sugar and calorie amounts that are too high for young children  according to health experts.

Factors other than simply a persons’ preference when it comes to the consumption of fast food, such as the economic circumstances, the media and aggressive marketing to name a few, must be acknowledged when criticising people for consuming fast food. For many people, the negative aspects of fast food such as the poor nutrients, are balanced out against these other factors. These must be accounted for before solely placing the blame at the feet of the individuals. Although blaming the consumers may be the easy thing to do, it is in fact the underlying societal components that ought to be held more responsible for their role to play in the consumption of fast food.