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How Fast Food is Hurting our Society in the United States

Sample research paper by Jennifer Bailey - Winter 2009

With everyday that goes by, healthy food is becoming increasingly expensive to buy in our society. Whether it is a bag of groceries or going out to a restaurant, people (especially within lower income families) are only able to get by with cheaper types of food which in return causes major health issues which we are already seeing today and they will only become worst overtime. This problem is decreasing our life expectancy rates for not only adults but also especially children within our society. If something is not done about this problem we could have a health catastrophe on our hands. We have always been taught through education that eating healthy is important. However, looking through advertisements and commercials the media portrays unhealthy food more often than healthy food. Many advertisers know that people do not either want to spend a lot of money on food or they simply can't afford to buy healthy food, therefore advertising cheaper foods will be more appealing to the customer. Even though fast food is cheap it will only cost our society in long run more money due to health problems. We need to find a better way for people to eat healthier but to also maintain the prices so that healthy food is affordable for everyone and so that obesity rates can be lowered, life expectancy rates can be raised and in return it would decrease health problems.

According to The Atlas of Food: "Fast food is central to the American way of life. Each day, one in four Americans eats fast food" (Millstone 37). This is a huge proportion of people who eat unhealthy food not just every week but every day. It is hard for anyone to wrap their head around this. How can the majority of our society be eating unhealthy foods? In order to buy healthier foods it is important to first look at location and then price. People need to have access to these healthier locations before they are able to shop for better food.

When you walk down the street in the majority of neighborhoods within the United States you will surely see many types of fast food restaurants within blocks of each other. As you walk by their menus you will most likely see deals painted across their windows such as the $1 meals promoted at McDonalds or by one Whopper get one free at Burger King. It is no wonder so many people end up going in buying this type of cheap food. These types of deals are cheaper than a gallon of milk now days. These fast food restaurants are located everywhere, in every state and in affluent neighborhoods along with lower income neighborhoods. However, if you were to look around for the healthiest options for food within our area such as a Wild Oats store, New Seasons, or Whole Foods you probably won't find many or any around lower income areas. You will find these stores more around affluent neighborhoods or in and around trendy shopping outlet malls. In our area west of Portland, Oregon where I live, I noticed that many of these healthy food stores are located in the Bridgeport area, Cedar Hills Crossing area in Beaverton, or any other well to do areas of town. These places know that if any customer would be able to afford organic/healthy food, affluent people would be ones who have the money to buy these products.

On a larger scale, if you look nationwide for fast food restaurants and for the healthiest options for food you will find this problem to be similar to Oregon's. It was very noticeable to me when looking at the McDonalds website versus one of the healthier choices such as Whole Foods you will find more McDonalds than you will find Whole Foods Stores in the majority if not all of our states (states that are affluent or lower income). However the number of Whole Foods store locations is dependent upon whether the state that you live in is more affluent or lower income. States that are more affluent tend to have more healthy options when it comes to food than a state that is lower income. Just by looking at the Whole Foods Store website, for example, you will more likely find these stores in states such as the west coast or within the Northern states like New York. By looking at www.mcdonalds.com, in just the state of Alabama alone, there were about 82 McDonald's locations. However, when going onto www.wholefoodsmarket.com you will find only one Whole Foods Store location within the entire state. This is just one example of how disproportionate a state can become when it comes to providing unhealthy food to healthy food. If you were to look at the state such as New York, you will also find a high disproportion of McDonalds within the state to Whole Foods Stores. In just New York City alone not including the entire state I found there to be more than 200 locations for McDonalds and only about eight locations for Whole Foods stores statewide. However, this is still better than one location. Many of these people though, unlike possibly Alabama, have the money to go out and buy Whole Foods products though. When looking at other affluent places such as California there were also about over 200 McDonalds in the upper portion of the state such as in San Francisco and since California is an affluent state also there are about 40 Whole Foods Store statewide. Either way when you look at the scale it is very easy to see why many Americans are eating unhealthy food versus healthy food. There simply are not enough Whole Food Stores out there to match the amount of locations that McDonalds is in. Of course these are just two places. There are many other fast food restaurant chains that out- number the amount of health food stores.

Just by looking at the amount of locations in general of McDonalds to the amount of locations for Whole Foods the numbers are staggering. This does not even include other healthy stores such as Wild Oats where some states don't even have. It may be a little off of me to compare states with each other because each state varies in population and it is understandable that California and New York have high populations. However, my main question would be why do we even need over 200 locations of just one fast food restaurant chain in one city? Yet you can only find statewide on average less than 50 healthier options to go to within states. Even though the locations are staggering to see, looking at prices is even worst when it comes to buying the healthiest foods within the United States.

Many stores that sell organic foods (even though they are the healthiest options) are in reality the most expensive and very few people can afford to buy weekly groceries at these places. Looking at prices here in Oregon the New Seasons in the Cedar Hills Crossing region a half gallon milk would cost the consumer on average about 3 dollars. This is only one example of how expensive food at these places can be. Within Oregon it is easy to tell that many people want these places to expand not only for health reasons but also for environmental reasons. After all we are one of the greenest states in the country. However, we must not forget our lower income families.

Even if the consumer would go to Safeway or Albertsons for their food which are popular places within our area this still leaves out the low income families who still are not able to afford to buy their groceries at even these places. For example, on average a gallon of milk costs about three dollars at these places which is a much better price than buying a half gallon milk at New Seasons; however it is still too much for families under a tight income. Due to our struggling economy it is almost impossible for many low income families to buy enough groceries for their families. Many of these families end up buying their groceries at cheaper places for example at Winco. However, even with places such as Winco we go back to location. There are not as many Winco stores within our area versus Safeways and Albertsons. Many of these families (such as some immigrant families) do not have a car or a faster mode of transportation than the bus to take to get to cheaper stores within the area. According to Oregonlive.com, a woman named Lesli Calderon is unable to afford a car and the closest grocery stores to her she is unable to afford their food. She lives in Northeast Portland and because of these two issues she has to ride the bus to Winco. It would be nice if Winco was only a block away. However, this particular Winco is about ten miles away. It would also be fine if she owned a car however since she takes the bus it is mentioned within this article that it can take up to four hours round trip. It is mentioned that Calderon packs her cart with as many fruits and vegetables that she can afford however according to the author of this article, Paige Parker for the amount of fruits and vegetables that she bought:

"That's about 7 percent of the fruit and 22 percent of the vegetables her household needs each month to meet USDA dietary guidelines for good health and disease prevention, says Anne Hoisington, a dietician with Oregon State University's extension service" (Parker 1).
This woman wishes that she can afford more of these healthier foods but because she lives so far away from Winco it is harder to maintain the freshness of these foods. These foods though are the only sure way to maintain her family's health. She has a couple of children that she is raising and providing healthy foods for them in their growing years is a necessity so that they do not grow up like many children to be obese and at risk for many other serious health factors.

Already life expectancy rates are decreasing every year. It has already been projected by many doctors that the millennial generation is projected not to live as long as the baby boomer generation due to increasing obesity rates. It mentions through the book Fast Food Nation that this generation has the most unfit children ever in the history of this nation. Kids are not as active as they used to be but the main reason why so many children are overweight or obese is because of the types of food they have been eating. Some of these children might be going there because their parents choose to eat there. But I would bet the main reason why more and more children are eating at these restaurants than ever before is because of the cheaper prices of food that is offered at these places and is also probably the reason why so many processed foods are purchased at grocery stores. According to CommonDreams.org:

"Food high in fat and low in nutrients is cheaply made and easily shipped, which undercuts low prices. But shoppers who cannot afford anything else buy it" (Kielburger 1).

This article also mentions that it is no longer a question of people indulging themselves with food. It is more or less becoming a way of life to survive. The cheaper the food the more people are going to buy it to save money. Unfortunately the mass media does not help in this case either. Advertisers for these fast food companies tend to market to the weakest of society or the life- long customers. These people will either be children (since they are the life- long customers) or they will most likely be low income adults. For the rest of society it is a luxury for them to choose whether or not they want to buy fast food or not (including processed foods). Advertisements always emphasize how cheap the prices are compared to other types of possible healthier alternatives. It is too bad they do not look out for the care of your health. They are in it to make a profit. This only sends a message to the larger community that it is okay to sacrifice your health to save a few extra bucks. It only encourages children in our society to begin the life-long cycle of creating an unhealthy life-style for themselves.

Obesity will increasingly become the number one killer for many people who are lower income, not just here in the United States, but also around the world in the near future. Within the United States this would more include poor urban areas of the country. Commondreams.org suggests that we can curb this problem if the food industry were to produce healthier qualities of food. Advertisement companies could help by promoting these healthier foods instead of leading much of the lower income families who are vulnerable, into eating unhealthy foods and food that has the potential to ruining their life-long health. The foods also need to be set at a lower cost so that healthy food can be affordable for everyone not just the elite. Instead of building 200 McDonalds in a city, if any buildings should be built, our society needs to focus more on increasing the amount of Wincos especially in locations were they are most needed in place of all of these fast food restaurants. Even though this may be an expensive project in the short term, it will save tons of money (especially in the medical fields) in the long run. Fast Food Nation mentions:

"The annual health care costs in the United States stemming from obesity now approach $240 billion..." (Schlosser 242).

If there were more Wincos built and better food products available at a price in which lower income families could afford think of how many lives we could save because obesity rates would not be high and because these rates would not be high, diabetes and heart disease cases would decrease. Think of the types of habits that our society's children could develop over time. They would be able to learn how to save money but also how to eat healthy. This could dramatically increase their life expectancy rates. Even though lives are the most important, it would also save money in the health care system in the long run. It may take awhile but it would definitely be more worth it in the end for the next generation.

It is important to have a healthy society because it allows it to survive longer. Food is a necessity for all of us not just the elite and not just the poor. Prices should be set at reasonable costs so that no one has to worry about whether or not they can afford it. By doing this we are helping each other out in creating a stronger and healthier society. People don't want to live in this situation; if anything, like Calderon, they wish that they could eat more healthy foods. We are all happier when we are healthier and we seem to work better too. We only have one body that is given to us and no one should have to make the sacrifice to choose between a healthy body and an unhealthy body. In the end, all of us should be healthy.

Works Cited
Millstone, Erik., and Tim Lang. The Atlas of Food. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation. New York: Perennial, 2002.
Kielburger, Craig and Marc. "Obesity Becoming World Crisis." The Toronto Star 4 Feb. 2008.
10 Mar. 2009. www.commondreams.org/print27529
Parker, Paige. "Portland's low income neighborhoods are city's 'food deserts'" The Oregonian.
15 Nov. 2008. 10 Mar. 2008. http://www.oregonlive.com/health/index