American Children Eating Fast Food Leads to Health Problems

Michael’s dad wanted to do something special for his son. Michael had just gotten a straight A report card and it was a special occasion in the house. The family did not often go to fast food restaurants; Michael’s mom knew that fast food was not the best as a diet for her child. His dad thought it would be okay as a treat, so he drove through Jack in the Box and got three burgers. Michael thought the meat was a bit red, but his dad told him it was fine. Later that night, Michael’s parents had horrible stomach pains. By morning they had passed. They had been in too much pain to check on Michael. In the morning he did not come downstairs. They went up to check on him. He was holding his stomach in pain and his bed sheets were covered in bloody diarrhea. His parents quickly rushed him to the hospital. But it was too late. Michael had a heart attack on the way to the hospital and died. The doctors ruled that this had been a case of E. coli O157:H7 food poisoning. An innocent child’s life lost, due to one hamburger.

Many Americans now eat fast food. It is popular in today’s culture. According to Eric Schlosser, “[t]he typical American now consumes approximately three hamburgers and four orders of french fries every week” (Schlosser 6). Many of those Americans consuming fast food are children. In one USDA study, “Thirty percent of American children were found to eat fast food on a typical day” ( Nitzke). This much consumption of such unhealthy food causes health problems. People who eat fast food are more likely to become overweight or even obese. Heart disease and cancer rates for fast food consumers are higher. Those who eat fast food are more likely to develop diabetes. Fast food is not proper nutrition in any sense. The consumption of so much fast food is hurting all Americans.

A fast food diet in children can lead to many health problems. Such a diet is low in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and essential oils. This type of diet will lead to malnutrition in America’s children. A diet consisting of such amounts of fast food as we see in today’s children “will lead to immune deficiency, high cholesterol, and diseases showing up at an earlier age than we used to see” (Crabtree). So many children are eating too much fast food that soon we may start seeing epidemics of heart disease, osteoporosis, and other diseases linked to fast food. Being malnourished also stunts growth and makes it harder for those affected to concentrate. A child who is constantly tired at school is not going to be able to learn as much. However, there are more than just long term effects that children can be affected with. Food poisoning is more likely to kill children than adults. It is easy to get food poisoning today, “7.5 percent of the ground beef samples taken at processing plants were contaminated with Salmonella, 11.7 percent were contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, 30 percent were contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus, and 53.3 percent were contaminated with Clostridium perfringens” (Schlosser 197). The death by food poisoning is not a pleasant way to die. Those infected with E. coli O157:H7 have severe cramping and bloody diarrhea. If the child lives through the experience, they may have permanent brain damage and damage of other organs as well. Clearly the children are highly impacted by the decision to eat some fast food.

It is important to focus on the health of the nation’s children because these children will become adults. Those under twelve years old are considered children. Such a large age group of unhealthy people will result in problems for the generation in the future. If our people are not healthy, society cannot accomplish much. It does not reflect a good image of our nation when such problems are preventable through a simple diet change and we still have these problems. As fast food consumption has increased, so have the obesity rates in the United States; today “[t]he rate of obesity among American children is twice as high as it was in the late 1970s” (Schlosser 240). With such high rates of obesity, health problems increase. Those who are obese as children also have a hard time losing the weight as adults. Due to choices they made as children, these people have a high chance of remaining obese forever.

Do we really want to be known around the world as the fattest nation? If the nation overall were healthier, perhaps we could all be more productive. Without spending so much of our money and time on these preventable diseases we could make more progress. And no parent should have to watch their child die of food poisoning or other preventable illnesses. No child should have to have their future ruined by brain damage from the food poisoning. No child deserves lifelong health consequences from decisions they made before they could have known the dangers of fast food. We must protect the children of this nation, as they cannot protect themselves.

There are many causes to the problem of children’s health being adversely affected by fast food. The industry is greedy; they are only concerned with profits, not health. This is an industry that generates an enormous amount of revenue from children. They advertise to children so that the children will beg their parents to take them to the fast food places. The children then bring in their families, which generates the profit. Another cause is that fast food is mostly unhealthy. The few healthy choices are not items that children would eat. Yet all this unhealthy food is damaging their health and the industry knows it. Another problem is the way that fast food is processed. Food poisoning is easily transferred. The food is not cooked in such ways as to make it the healthiest it can be either. I interviewed a former Burger King employee who worked at Burger King for 10 months to see what the cooking procedures were like. I wanted to find out if there were any safety measures in place to make sure the meat was properly cooked. Angie told me, “they didn’t check every single patty, but it seemed they checked them a few times a day to be sure the broiler was cooking hot enough. Plus many of the burgers were microwaved as well. That was around the time that Jack in the Box had that big E. Coli breakout” (Smith). She quit working at Burger King when she was eight months pregnant with her first child. Smith does not often feed her children fast food. Yet not all adults, much less children, know much about fast food. Since the advertising is directed at children who do not have all the facts, they have a hard time resisting temptation to eat such unhealthy food, not realizing that it is unhealthy. Children do not realize they are being manipulated by their fuzzy mascot idols. There is also a lack of adequate nutritional education in the schools. The information is often outdated and even supplied by the industry. We can’t expect the industry to tell kids not to eat their products. Of course nutritional information packets supplied by McDonald’s are not going to be based on facts. Why would McDonald’s tell children that fast food really isn’t good nutrition? This is one case where the free educational materials are definitely not what are best for the children. Only once we recognize these causes will we be able to solve this problem.
Fast food companies started out trying to attract families. They did not want the teenage customers that drive-ins had attracted. A way of attracting the families was to lure in the children. When McDonald’s wanted to be more like Disneyland and build an attraction, they “built small Playlands and McDonaldlands all over the United States” (Schlosser 42). Colorful playgrounds, toys, clowns – these are all ways to attract children. What child would not nag their parents to eat at a place with so much excitement? No child is going to choose a healthy restaurant over one with toys in the meal. A single mom that I interviewed by email spoke of her child’s consistent technique in nagging for fast food: “Derrick loves to go to a particular restaurant just for the toy they have in the meal. He’ll call me in the car on the way home from work and say that he just saw a commercial and there is a toy at BK that he just HAS to have. It’s very frustrating” (Kadet). Kadet knew it was bad for the health of her child to feed him fast food, but the convenience after a long day of work coupled with the whining from her child for fast food usually made her cave in and buy it. Many parents do the same.

In order to protect our nation’s children, there are three solutions that need to be put into place. We need to have healthier fast food options made available, which taste like something children would actually eat. Advertising directed at children needs to be stopped, unless it is encouraging them to choose the healthier options. Adequate nutritional information in schools needs to be ensured. With these solutions, we may have hope for the future.

It is important to have healthier foods available at fast food places. This way it is just as convenient to eat healthy. In order for a meal to be considered fast food, it only needs to be prepared and served quickly. Fast food does not need to be unhealthy, it only needs to be convenient. Many parents only feed their children fast food instead of home-cooked meals due to convenience. I interviewed single mother who is a hotel worker by email to see why her family often ate fast food:
I take my kids to fast food resteraunts [sic] because I am too tired to cook after working all nite, [sic] and trying to do the rest of my chores on 3 hours of sleep during the day. I try to take them somewhere that has a choice of a salad, and try for stuff that might be better like chicken Mcnuggets, [sic] or a grilled chicken salad. I dont [sic] like to take them there all the time, but sometimes i [sic] am just too tired to slap two pieces of bologna together! Its [sic] easier to go through a drive through and pick up something, then [sic] stand in a kitchen making a mess and getting pots and pans dirty, washing dishes, and cleaning it all up. Sometimes its [sic] just not worth it! (Kibler).

Sometimes Kibler’s three children get excellent home-cooked meals, when she has the time to make them. Even knowing the fast food is not good for her children, the convenience is too great to avoid taking them there. However, if companies made healthier options for children, many parents like Kibler would pick out the healthier options for their family. The companies then cannot claim that they do not profit from the children if they can still market healthy foods to children. These new healthy choices need to be foods that children would actually enjoy. This will help to teach children about healthy living.

Advertising directed at children needs to be stopped. Several organizations that have the children’s best interests at heart agree. Children can not make informed decisions on their health, and therefore do not realize that are being manipulated. These advertisements encourage a lifelong cycle of bad eating habits. The children cannot distinguish facts in commercials from marketing techniques. Commercials targeted at children do not need to provide truthful information to be believed: “McDonald’s, the multi-national hamburger chain, has spent many millions of dollars on an advertising campaign targeted at youngsters that presents a rather unique version of reality. Obviously feeling that little things like the truth are unimportant when talking to children, they have produced a series of commercials in which a lovable clown named Ronald McDonald tells his impressionable young audience that hamburgers grow in hamburger patches” (Robbins 129). There are many children who believe Ronald McDonald cannot lie. These children may truly believe that fast food is good for you. Without having the proper judgmental skills developed, these children are put at risk by such commercials.

The third part of this solution is to make nutritional education in schools fun and accurate. Instill the information needed in children to have lifelong healthy eating habits. The industry should not be allowed to supply the educational materials. Companies do not have an interest in bettering the health of the nation’s children. When “[c]ompanies provide ‘educational packets’ to schools, [they] generally include a heavy dose of advertising” (Johnson, Wallace, and Stuart-Simmons). Children get bombarded with enough advertising simply watching television; they do not need to be subject to advertisements at school as well.

Now let us compare these solutions to discover which is best. If children are educated, they might be better equipped to evaluate advertisements and pick healthier foods. If there is no advertising for fast food restaurants directed at children, the industry will lose a lot of profits. If there are healthier foods sold at fast food restaurants anyway, eating there would not affect children’s health in a negative way.

It seems that education is the best solution. Those who are informed about the dangers of fast food do not eat it. Those who are educated can evaluate advertisements; they can know when they are being misled. Education plants the seeds of knowledge to have healthy eating habits. This will give children the information they need to choose healthy foods for the rest of their lives. However, there is not only one solution. Not everyone would have access to this education in time to save them from the dangers of fast food. Children younger than school aged eat fast food as well, yet they will not receive education about nutrition, nor would they understand it if they did. This is why education can not be the sole solution.

These solutions must all be implemented for the plan to work. First, advertisements directed at children must stop. No more children should learn to desire fast food. This will force the industry to change if they cannot advertise unhealthy food. Next healthy foods need to be made available at the fast food restaurants. Busy parents can then still buy fast food for their children. The industry can also then still make a profit as long as they can come up with healthy fast food that tastes good. With help from the flavor companies, it would be possible to create good tasting healthy fast food. Lastly, educational programs must be put into place. Since the unhealthy options will still be available, children need to know how to choose what to eat. This will help the children grow up to be more informed customers. Children can learn the dangers of long-term fast food consumption, as well as the more immediate dangers to them, such as food poisoning.

As Michael’s classmates sat quietly in the rows at the church at his funeral, they thought about what a great friend he was. He never got into fights at school, he wasn’t a troublemaker, and he did his best at everything he did. Michael was always telling his classmates about good nutrition and his mom made him the best lunches. He would often share his lunches just to be a good guy. Yet now their friend was gone, all because of some undercooked hamburger meat. His father wept as he thought of how this special occasion had gone so horribly wrong. He blamed himself for having thought just one hamburger could not hurt, just a rare fast food meal would be okay. His mother was weeping as well, as she felt she did not get to the hospital soon enough and should have done more to save her son. Michael died a wrongful death; no child deserved to die in such a horrible way. If nothing is done about the current problems with fast food however, many more children may suffer the same fate as poor Michael did and die at the hands of the fast food industry.

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