Obesity has become a dangerous problem all over the world, and it continues to grow. Obesity can be due to a number of factors, one of which is the consumption of foods high in fat and calories (Obesity). A recent study concludes that nearly one third of the population in the world is obese or overweight, the data coming from 188 countries across the globe (Murray). An increase in obesity rates over the last three decades has raised a concern of an epidemic in public health in developed and developing areas of the world.
Unhealthy foods majorly contribute to these rates of obesity, and are another cause of childhood weight gain. In the last thirty years, childhood obesity has doubled from ages 2 to 5, tripled from ages 6 to 11, and more than tripled from ages 12 to 19 for young adults (Obesity).
The reason behind these increases of obesity are due to lack of proper exercise and nutrition, with consumption of particular foods varying by culture. In areas such as the United States, fast food is a major contributor to the health epidemic. According to news-medical.net, studies show that over the course of the last four decades, rates of eating away from home have increased; restaurants contribute to the over consumption of foods, due to the large portions they offer. The nutrition value of the food being served is also concerning, with fast foods containing an increased energy density (Obesity).
Another factor to be considered is the comparison of prices associated with unhealthy and healthy foods. According to a Cambridge University study, healthy foods on average cost three times as much as that of junk food (Donnelly). However, the nutritional costs of fast food and junk food provide a negative outcome on the health of an individual who frequently consumes cheap, unhealthy foods. If governments were to regulate the prices of unhealthy foods and the amounts and which they are offered, there is the question of whether this could reduce the differences in prices of unhealthy and healthy foods as well as reduce and stop the growing epidemic of weight gain and obesity for children and adults worldwide.
Many argue that it is the right of the people to decide what they eat day to day. The balance of nutrition as well as exercise can also contribute to controlling weight gain with the consumption of fast food. Weight gain can be counteracted through an equal amount of calories burned and calories absorbed through food (Balance). An adequate amount of exercise everyday can keep the body functioning and healthy, as well as reduce the mood and health effects of unhealthy eating habits (Balance).
It is difficult to correlate weight gain with unhealthy foods, due to other causes of obesity amongst children and adults. Weight gain can be due to medical conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and Cushing’s syndrome, which can slow down one’s metabolism and make it difficult to digest foods as fast as a normal individual (Obesity). Conditions such as osteoarthritis cause pain that leads to immobility, meaning exercise isn’t an option to burn off calories. Growing older can lead to a loss in muscle mass; pregnancy or a lack of sleep daily can lead to a slower metabolism as well (Obesity). Therefore, it is a combination of other environmental, psychological, and genetic factors that can lead to weight gain besides unhealthy foods.
The way and rate in which food is consumed should also be considered. Binge-eating and excessive eating lead to an excess in caloric intake, while eating in moderation and smaller amounts can help prevent malnutrition (Obesity). It is important to balance healthy foods with unhealthy foods so that one’s health can remain stable.
A major conflict encountered with imposing governmental restrictions on unhealthy foods is the infringement of people’s rights. One might argue that it is their choice to consume foods high in fat and calories, and that imposing restrictions on such foods would interfere with their right to eat what they want (Should). If the government increased the price on fast foods, an issue could occur in which the government could have too much power over people’s lives.
Education is also an important factor when avoiding unhealthy foods. Many packaged and processed foods are labeled to attract children because they are “”tasty and easy to eat”” (How). These such foods are high in sugar and fats, and if consumed regularly can cause weight gain and ultimately obesity in children, which can affect their physical, emotional, and mental growth and development in their adult years (How). If children are taught to avoid processed junk foods at a young age, they may tend to eat more balanced, whole foods and thus maintain a healthier lifestyle when they are older.
The amount of money resulting from fast food is another major factor to consider. Fast-food chains alone spend about $3 billion each year on television advertising – enough money to pay 75,000 workers $40,000 a year to construct hospitals, schools, or other productive activities that would benefit society (The). Many fast-food restaurants are franchises, located across the globe and making billions of dollars from consumers. The reasonable cost and the “”quick and easy”” approach of buying a meal is what makes these restaurants so popular and profitable (The).
However, the cheap price of the food provided from these restaurants benefits individuals that can’t afford to buy expensive, nutritional food weekly to provide for their families. In areas such as the United States, there are many people that live in areas in which only cheap food is available. These areas are called “”food deserts”” (Thomas). The US Department of Agriculture defines this as “”urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.”” Products available often contain salt and sugar preservatives, which can last longer compared to natural foods such as apples or whole grains. In general, when raising taxes on products, it is common that the taxed goods will be bought less once the price is higher. However, this isn’t the case for food consumption; limiting purchases in one location must be offset by purchases in another location. Therefore, without good alternatives for lower class families, it would raise the price on the unhealthy food they consume with no change in behavior.
In addition, the USDA concludes that around 23.5 million U.S. citizens live in food deserts, most of which are low-income (Thomas). When the products that they normally buy are higher in price, it reduces the amount of money they have to spend on other necessities, thus making them poorer; this is called an “”income effect”” by economists. The result of a food tax would cause more tension on people in society who have the least options and the most difficult time making ends meet.
The money made from unhealthy food and fast food restaurants stimulates the economy, as well as provides meals for less fortunate families. If these foods were to be regulated or taxed, it could be disruptive to the lower class of society, as well as introduce more issues involving money and affordability for these families. With exercise, education on the effect on one’s health from unhealthy foods, and moderation with consumption, fast foods and unhealthy foods could be not as detrimental to the health of society.
However, a person’s diet can strongly influence their health if not eaten in moderation. There is also a question of whether the cheap price of unhealthy foods is the primary reason why they may be consumed more often. Over the past few years, there has been an abnormal rise in the rates of obesity worldwide. As of recently obesity has risen exponentially; it now effects countries under all economic levels. Globally, the rate of obesity has doubled since 1980, with over 200 million adult men and 300 million adult women obese. The rates of obesity have risen in children too, with 43 million preschool children overweight or obese in 2010, a sixty percent increase since 1990 (Obesity Prevention).
Studies have shown that caloric intake has also increased with the rates of obesity. Results from data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicate an increase in amount and energy density of foods consumed in the USA from 1976 through 1980, and 1999 through 2002. Studies also indicate that the average USA caloric intake increased by more than 300 calories among the population as a whole from 1985 through 2002, and continues to rise (Mandal). Regionally, countries located in the Middle East and North Africa, Central America, and Island nations in the Pacific and Caribbean have reached extremely high rates of obesity, 44% or higher (Murray).
Although it is difficult to directly relate health problems to the cheap price on unhealthy foods, there has been a noticeable correlation between the rates of obesity and the average caloric intake. Also, a bad health from not eating properly can lead to health risks such as cardiovascular disease, as well as cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and chronic kidney disease. These health risks increase when an individual’s BMI exceeds 23, which can occur in an overweight person. In addition, such health risks associated with obesity have been estimated to have caused 3.4 million deaths, most of which were found to be from cardiovascular disease.
Obesity is caused by malnutrition from a lack of exercise and nutrition. Although consumption of fast foods can be counteracted by an accurate amount of exercise, eating fast food on a regular basis contributes to vitamin deficiency (Dray). Unhealthy foods are packed with preservatives and sugar, as well as an abundance of sodium in order to maintain their freshness (Franck).
Fast food may seem like the best solution for an individual on a budget due its convenience and price, but a diet infused with fast food lacks many essential nutrients. Fiber is most commonly found in unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but fast-food dishes rarely provide a significant amount to provide an adequate amount of fiber needed for a healthy diet. In addition, most fast food has been stripped of many necessary minerals; many fast food dishes that provide such minerals lack in nutrition. For example, McDonald’s Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken provides 130 percent of the Daily Value of Vitamin A and 50 percent of the required for vitamin C; rarely are any other essential minerals, such as zinc, potassium and copper, are likely to be located in fast foods (Dray).
Overall, fast food provides little, if any, benefit to an individual’s health. In order to avoid a worldwide epidemic of obesity, society must reframe from the consumption of fast food. Although the cost of a fast food meal is affordable, home cooking enables an individual to serve healthier, less expensive meals (Dray). A better diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber with low concentration on sweets and saturated fats is majorly beneficial to the human body (Katz).
One reason in which an individual may be persuaded to choose to eat cheap, unhealthy foods is due to the economic incentives. Over a period of time, the price of sugar-saturated beverages has decreased compared to healthier alternatives, such as milk. However, this demonstrates how instituting a tax on junk food and unhealthy drinks can provide enormous value; it provides a perspective in which people can make a healthier choice (Katz). The money gained from this upcharge could be used to spread awareness of the dangers of junk food to one’s health, as well as fund projects that influence better choices, and advertise healthy alternatives to popular foods that lack in nutrition. For families of low income, zoning incentives could be used to place supermarkets near low-income neighborhoods so that people can purchase nutritional foods at an affordable price. For younger individuals, improving school lunches could contribute to less obesity rates in teens and young adults.
In order to terminate the possibility of epidemics of obesity and diabetes, regulation of junk food as well as the elimination of major price differences between unhealthy and healthy foods should be considered. Through improving the food society consumes as well as its price and quantity, it can be easier for society to make a healthier choice and ultimately put an end to the growing obesity rates worldwide.
In conclusion, although both arguments are strong in the opinions of regulating unhealthy foods, the side in which unhealthy foods should be regulated by the government is stronger. This is due to the majority of overweight people in the world, as well as the nutrition value associated with unhealthy foods such as fast food. Unhealthy and processed foods overall damage the health of an individual. Although exercise helps, it does little to accommodate the long term effects of consuming these types of food and drinks on a regular basis.
In order for society to maintain a healthy lifestyle and overall improve the average individual’s nutrition, a regulation should be placed on unhealthy foods. However, more research should be conducted as to how these regulations should be placed and what their effect on the economy would be over a period of time. There is an issue associated with lower class families and raising the prices of the unhealthy foods that they can afford. In comparison, the money gained can be used to spread awareness on healthy eating habits and lifestyles, as well as redistributed back into the economy to help lower class families with the price changes.
Unhealthy foods contribute to harm one’s health as well as ultimately affect the health of an individual over the years of one’s life. If governments were to regulate unhealthy food and drinks, the worldwide epidemic of obesity could be reduced if not diminished, and people all over the world would be able to live stronger, happier, and healthier lives.
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