Obesity Is Caused by America’s Obsession With Value

BySean Dominguez

According to the CDC, about one-third of U.S. adults are obese. Type II diabetes is no longer referred to as adult onset diabetes because children as young as 10-years-old are now being diagnosed. The U.S. is trying to curb this epidemic by sponsoring initiatives such as Michelle Obama’s child obesity program “Let’s Move!” 

Experts link the obesity epidemic with increased sedentariness and the proliferation of fast food. Often, the public places the onus on restaurants to be more up front about their products. But even with the mandated publishing of calories, the fast food industry continues to thrive. If transparency doesn’t succeed in altering bad dieting decisions, what is the factor that ultimately does? The answer lies in our constant search for deals. 

The bargain hunting mentality that popularized off-price department stores like Ross and Marshall’s is one of the primary drivers of America’s obesity crisis. As long as we continue to value great deals over our health, fast food restaurants will have no choice but to take our money. 

At this point, we’re not even thinking in terms of food – we’re thinking in terms of value. This is a serious issue of misguided reasoning considering that monetary value should never have a bearing on the value of good health – especially when it comes to mere dollars and dimes.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you need to eat 2,000 calories to sustain your weight. You go to McDonald’s for lunch and want a Big Mac that will cost you $4.51 (with CA taxes) and measure in at 540 calories. Not bad. If you ate three Big Macs a day, you’d be running a calorie deficit of 380 calories – albeit with a high fat intake. But who buys sandwiches a la carte? You’ll take a medium drink, but if you buy one, medium fries will only cost you an extra 66 cents. Who turns down fresh fries for 66 cents?

At the end of your meal, you’ve consumed 1130 calories instead of 540 and it will seem as if you had no choice – it was simple economics. How could anyone possibly pass up such a deal?

If you think this is a narrow example, think again. 

Think of all the catchy, rounded prices that are out there: $5 medium one-topping pizza, $5 footlong, $2 Taco Tuesday. In reference to the above example, Big Macs routinely go on sale with deals like 2 for $3.50. This leads to the thinking, “I must take advantage of this while it’s here." Nowhere in that thought is the consideration, “Maybe I don’t need that much food?”

On top of all of the marketing gimmicks that make us forget that the principle function of food is to give us energy to live, fast food portions have exploded in size over the years in the spirit of free market competition. If one chain can squeeze an ounce or two extra to gain an edge, they’ll happily do so, and pass the savings – along with the fat – onto the consumer. A Carl’s Jr. Guacamole Bacon Six-Dollar Burger contains 1060 calories and 72 grams of fat – more fat per day than the daily total recommended. To bring the Big Mac back into the conversation, it was considered a large sandwich when it was introduced over 30 years ago, and contains about half the calories and much less than half the total grams of fat. Those calories have nowhere to go but around the waist – and thighs, chin, and arms.

The conflict of interest here is that restaurants have given us exactly what we’ve wanted: cheaper food in bigger portions. Natural selection is an apt framework for how difficult it is to thrive in the restaurant industry. Only the fittest – who consequently make us the fattest – are the ones that survive. In fact, Ruby Tuesday attempted to cut their portions in 2005, which led to a 5% dip in sales.

I am not against fast food. After all, I’m a college student who can’t cook well and has most recently been surviving on frozen rolled tacos that I purchased from the Super Wal-Mart down my street. I also wrote this article while at a Denny’s. But there’s a chasm that exists between health preservation and the motivations of the fast food industry, whose primary concern is their bottom line. Our buying and eating habits have created this gap and the only way to undo it is to stop rewarding them with our patronage.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons