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Ethical issues regarding the nutritional value of fast food

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Ethical issues regarding the nutritional value of fast food

Executive Summary

This report addresses the question is the nutritional value/content of fast food a contributing factor of obesity, metabolic disorders and cardiovascular maladies among consumers?

Food engineered by fast food scientists tends to activate the pleasure-reward or dopamine pathways which are the same routes the human body utilizes for addiction. When people’s pleasure-reward pathways are activated, they often lack an internal strategy to fight their instincts. Thus, when faced with highly engineered food in fast food restaurants, people consume more and more.

Notwithstanding, not only is the unchecked consumption of fast food a big problem due to the rise in calories ingested by consumers but also the fast food made with GMO, TFA and flavor enhancers to target “The Bliss Point” is not nutritious. GMO, TFA, flavor enhancers together with obesity and the risk of diseases and disorders are the ethical issues surrounding the nutritional value/content of fast food.Ethical issues regarding the nutritional value of fast food

When it comes to suitable recommendations for addressing these ethical issues, fast food companies can run and support campaigns that sensitize the people about eating healthy foods even as much as they also advertise their fast foods. Governments, states and local authorities can also subsidize people’s wages and farm produces so as to make healthy and nutritious food more affordable and accessible to consumers. Consumers must also heed the sensitization campaigns and advice from medical practitioners and alter their dietary behaviors from fast foods to healthier and more nutritious foods and drinks. Otherwise, fast food companies can only ensure that their foods and drinks are free of GMO, FTA and harmful flavor enhancers, and have made efforts to support campaigns such as mindful eating and slow food movement.

Background

This report addresses the question is the nutritional value/content of fast food a contributing factor of obesity, metabolic disorders and cardiovascular maladies among consumers? Over the years, there have been significant changes in dietary habits with increasing transition from home-made to pre-prepared meals such as fast foods, heat-and-eat foods and takeaways (Simmons et al. 2005). As such, more and more people, particularly those with limited time to prepare home meals frequent fast food restaurants to consume fast foods. Nonetheless, this shift in food consumption has been concomitant with the prevailing obesity epidemic and health risks related to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), taste enhancers and Trans Fatty Acid (TFA), raising the possibility that these two trends are causally related. Albeit fast foods have been consistently and particularly targeted as major contributors of metabolic disorders and weight gain, special attention is now being given to the ethical issues regarding the nutritional value/content of fast food such as harmful FTA, GMO, taste enhancers and other additives

Description-ethical issues regarding the nutritional value of fast food

All people are genetically or intrinsically motivated by three major instincts or driving forces referred to as “The Motivational Triad.” These driving forces are the acquisition of sustenance or food, the conservation of energy in every activity people do and the accomplishment of procreation or coitus in order to transfer genetic code (Lisle and Goldhamer, 2006). Since the acquisition of sustenance or food is the first driver in “The Motivational Triad,” people have evolved to meet this need. The human tongue has ten thousand taste buds that sense four major tastes, that is, two tastes meant to repel and two tastes meant for pleasure. While the two warning sensors are for bitter and sour, the two pleasure sensors are for sweet and salty. People tend to crave for sweetness and salt since the former signals ripeness and the latter is a vital compound for basic body function. However, bitterness is normally associated with poisonous substances and sourness with spoiled food. Fat, on the other hand, is contemplated a dense source of dietary energy.

It is imperative to note that the fast food industry is conversant with the motivational triad, as well as, the three main taste pleasures exhibited by people, that is, sugar, salt and fat (Lisle and Goldhamer, 2006). In order to sell more food and drinks, fast food companies work to formulate irresistible food with the help of their food scientists through the combination of the three main taste pleasures in the correct proportions to achieve what is referred to as “The Bliss Point” (Lisle and Goldhamer, 2006). When one looks at the nutritional labels of all processed or ultra-processed food, he or she will find at least two of the three added components, salt, sugar and fat. In as much as unadulterated food can be found by consumers, they are far less common and not widely available or accessible in the average fast food restaurants. For instance, while it is possible to buy unsweetened and plain yogurt, a person has to search hard to find it among the varieties of unhealthy choices and it is also nearly impossible to buy pizza sauce that lacks salt and sugar. Food engineered by fast food scientists tends to activate the pleasure-reward or dopamine pathways which are the same routes the human body utilizes for addiction, be it addiction for food, drinks or drugs among others. When people’s pleasure-reward pathways are activated, they often lack an internal strategy to fight their instincts. Thus, when faced with highly engineered food in fast food restaurants, people consume more and more.Ethical issues regarding the nutritional value of fast food

Notwithstanding, not only is the unchecked consumption of fast food a big problem due to the rise in calories ingested by consumers but also the food made with GMO, TFA and flavor enhancers to target “The Bliss Point” is not nutritious. According to research by the World Health Association, no less than ninety-nine percent of fast food is unnaturally highly caloric, dense and highly processed or ultra-processed (Gallagher, 2018). In almost all fast food restaurants all over the world, these processed foods contain as dominant ingredients, refined flours, high fructose, corn syrup and large amounts of both fat and salt today. As such, these levels of saturated fat, sugar, sodium, energy and salt in fast food companies’ products are above their estimated requirements in both children and adults. As Weiss (2017) denotes, one hamburger with cheese from a major fast food restaurant contains 65 grams and 1,020 calories which are amounts of fat and calories that are more than 50% the recommended caloric intake for one whole day and 100% of an individual’s fat intake. Albeit the government-recommended diet for people includes abundant vegetables and fruits and less processed food and meat, approximately twelve percent of consumers adhere to this healthy diet with the majority following the western diet which comprises of immense processed foods and animal products and meager whole grains and vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts (Gallagher, 2018). The outcome of excessive consumption of such processed foods and drinks offered by fast food companies is increase in obesity, metabolic disorders and cardiovascular diseases.

Conservation of energy is the third driving force in the motivational triad (Lisle and Goldhamer, 2006). This means that people often choose the simplest and easiest path to acquire what is necessary to sustain them. Examples of such paths include using the wide availability of fast food outlets, eating out and having food delivered to them from restaurants. Since dining out, take outs and ready-made meals require no prior shopping, planning or clean up, they suit the fast lifestyles of most people. For instance, approximately 40% of all American meals are consumed outside people’s homes (Chakraborty et al., 2016).

Analysis-ethical issues regarding the nutritional value of fast food

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)

GMO can be referred to as organisms in which the genetic material or DNA has been changed in a manner that does not happen naturally using technology commonly known as contemporary biotechnology (Soba and Aydin, 2011). It is vital to note that GMO products are extremely useful for business owners in the fast food industry. This is because these products have certain attributes such as good taste, low price and good flavor. Thus, they have good characteristics and when GMOs are compared with hormones, they are healthier than hormones and provide high profit for business owners due to low production cost and increased yield. Currently, there are several Genetically Modified crops as food sources, but no genetically modified animals approved for consumption (Bawa and Anilakumar, 2012). However, as Bawa and Anilakumar (2012) assert, a genetically modified salmon has been proposed for FDA approval. In certain situations, the product is directly consumed as food by people, but in most instances, the crops that have been genetically modified are sold as commodities which are then processed further into food ingredients.

In as much as GMO and subsequent genetically modified food are useful, there are controversies and ethical issues regarding its viability as safe food and whether it should be labeled or declared in food packaging. A considerable number of people are of the opinion that GMO products are unhealthy products and as such, should not be bought and consumed. Since fast food companies are afraid that labeling their food as GMO products may result in a diminishing customer rate, they often omit the labels or explaining their usage so as to maintain their high profits. Thus, this omission or non-disclosure of use of genetically modified food is considered unethical by consumers since they have a prerogative to learn the product content and nutritional value in relation to their health (Bawa and Anilakumar, 2012). At a time when plastic rice, fish and other foods are being sold in the market, there is an ethical concern that technology is in a way, tampering with nature. As a result, consumers are concerned that they may be consuming harmful genetically modified food that is detrimental to their health while fast food companies are concealing this vital information.

Trans Fatty Acid (TFA)

Certain fast food companies have been seen using zero TFA advertisements. This has provoked ethical concerns among consumers who have questioned whether other fast food companies use Trans Fatty Acid in their products. Despite the fact that the World Health Association explained that one percent TFA can be utilized or included in foods, consumers tend to avoid consuming foods that have even one percent of TFA(Soba and Aydin, 2011).  It is imperative to note that Trans Fatty Acid has adverse effects on the human body, for instance, accelerated obesity and health complications such as metabolic disorders and cardiovascular diseases.

Since some fast food companies have taken the liberty to indicate that their products have zero TFA, consumers believe that it is the ethical responsibility of all fast food companies to declare whether their products have TFA. This concern emanates from the fact that most if not all fast food companies used to utilize TFA before and consumers are not aware of any changes that the companies could have made in stopping the use of this acid in their products. Fast food companies are conversant with the harmful health effects of Trans Fatty Acid, but chose not to communicate this information to consumers since they fear it will affect the sale of their products. This is the ethical issue, that even though 1% of FTA in food in allowed by the World Health Association, the fast food companies chose not to inform the public of the detrimental health effects of even this one percent of the acid let alone mention its inclusion in the food packages and advertisements. This prioritization of profits at the expense of the health of consumers has aggravated this ethical issue (Soba and Aydin, 2011).

Flavor Enhancers-ethical issues regarding the nutritional value of fast food

Consumers have been reported to complain about pain in the wrists, joints, shoulders, elbows, ankles, knees and hips without consuming red meat and cooked tomatoes. As it turns out, most of them had indulged in processed foods such as crisps, candy and soft drinks. In as much as certain people may be sticklers for reading ingredient labels on packaged food, most of the consumers fail to read these labels and as such, fail to see monosodium glutamate (MSG), commonly labeled as E621. While MSG that is used by most fast food companies among other flavor enhancers to improve the flavor of foods and drinks, it does so at the expense of the consumers’ health by overexciting their brain cells to make foods and drinks to appear to taste unrealistically good.

MSG is an excitotoxin whose function is to overexcite an individual’s cells to the point of death or damage, resulting in various degrees of brain damage (Conrick, 2011). MSG can also worsen or trigger learning disabilities and maladies such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Other symptoms of this flavor enhancer are hives, asthma, migraines, digestive disturbances, numbness and mouth eruptions (Conrick, 2011). The ethical issue comes about in that fast food companies tend to carefully omit MSG and other harmful flavor enhancers from their product ingredient labels. Instead, the term “permitted flavor enhancer” is normally used instead of the exact names or abbreviations of these harmful flavor enhancers. This is highly misleading and deceptive, especially since the companies can easily indicate E621 as one of the ingredients of their foods and ingredients. Consumers believe that it is only fair that fast food companies inform them exactly what is in their products rather than leave them to guess. Apart from foods such as processed meat products (sausages and chops) and soft drinks, additives used by fast food companies in their products also contain MSG, for instance, calcium caseinate, hydrolysed protein, yeast extract, autolysed yeast and monopotassium glutamate (Conrick, 2011). Failing to inform consumers about such harmful flavor enhancers is a grave ethical concern that fast food companies tend to prefer at the expense of giving comprehensive information about the nutritional content of their products.

Obesity and Risk of diseases and disorders-ethical issues regarding the nutritional value of fast food

The negative health effects of excessive consumption of fast food products and a western diet are numerous. However, obesity is one of the leading and most lethal adverse effects of fast food products on people’s health. The Body Mass Index (BMI) is utilized to ascertain whether an individual is of normal weight, overweight, underweight or obese. The BMI is computed using a person’s weight and height. However, Lee, Choi and Kim (2008) denote that BSA provides more useful information regarding deposits of fat in a person’s body and accurate picture of whether he or she is obese or not than BMI.

According to Boxtel, Klijn and Thio (2008), fast food restaurants have a negative impact on the obesity problem. The priority of fast food restaurants seems to be supplying food to their customers as fast and cheap as possible, instead of supplying healthy food. Due to the success of large players in the fast food industry, this concept is quite popular. It is vital to note that the type of food supplied by fast food restaurants is prepared in a fast manner such as deep frying and is also high in energy density. However, based on discordant observations of fast food restaurants, they have been identified as a critical causal factor of obesity as Jeffery et al. (2006) state. This is evident in the high trend of people eating away from home and the longitudinal and cross-sectional data on fast food restaurants that evince that the food consumed in fast food restaurants is positively associated with body weight. Moreover, Jeffery et al. (2006) reiterate that nutrition analysis of fast food products show that they have a high level of calories whose accumulation in the body results in various health complications such as cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorder, cancer, stroke and Type 2 Diabetes.

Recommendations-ethical issues regarding the nutritional value of fast food

Initiatives by Fast Food Restaurants and the Food Industry

Similar to the tobacco industry, the food industry can employ lobbying tactics to address the ethical issues regarding the nutritional content/value of fast food products. For instance, through campaigns such as “Value Meal” by Corporate Accountability International (CAI), the food industry can decrease the human suffering and harm caused by fast food companies, help transform the food system and protect the children and future generations from the corporate-perpetuated epidemic of diet-related maladies.

The fast food restaurants and food industry as a whole can also implement variety of helpful policies such as decreasing portion sizes and providing nutrition labels in multiple locations. A study by Roberto et al. (2010) revealed that when nutrition labels are also placed on the menu, people who eat in restaurants consumed fourteen percent fewer calories. Moreover, right-sizing food or making the portions no more than thirty percent of the recommended daily allowances per meal can cut thirty percent to fifty percent of the calorie amount. Another initiative that fast food companies can implement is increasing the appeal and selection of healthy food by adding more fresh fruits and vegetables and decreasing the price of nutritious food.

Social/Political/Corporate/Community Solutions-ethical issues regarding the nutritional value of fast food

Nutritious food affordability is a major issue in countries where global fast food companies operate including the United States. To combat this, various states can enact better legislation to raise people’s minimum wage to what is referred to as the living wage so that people can afford nutritious food and resist cheap high calorie fast food. More price parity between healthy food and unhealthy food will go a long way in subsidizing the ability of people to purchase more nutritious food than the high calorie and unhealthy food.

Local and state governments, as well as, communities can also do more to eradicate food deserts. This can be done by providing incentives to grocery stores so that they can be situated in the food deserts. In addition, communities can espouse fresh markets by coming up with creative means such as fresh produce trucks and mobile mini-healthy groceries to bring healthy food closer to consumers. While the United States Federal trade Commission has implemented guidelines for the marketing of food to teens and children, these guidelines remain voluntary. This presents a challenge to the objective of getting children and teens to eat healthier food since numerous schools and some hospitals permit fast food outlets on their premises, alongside less processed, healthier food options.

Campaigns

Fast food companies can run and support healthy eating campaigns such as the slow food movement and mindful eating. Through the slow food movement, fast food restaurants can support local cuisine, community sustainability and local farming and highlight the importance of slow community dining and food preparation.

Mindful eating refers to people being more aware of the effect of the food they consume on their bodies and health. Fast food companies can promote this message given that it is a holistic awareness campaign that entails the physical, emotional and spiritual states of people.

Medical Education/ Healthcare professionals

There has been immense pressure on healthcare professionals over the years, particularly physicians to not only prescribe a healthy diet to patients but also model healthy demeanors such as those relating to diet, weight and exercise. This approach is contemplated vital for patient education and engagement and for better health outcomes among people. Based on this understanding, medical schools are gradually embracing culinary training and more nutrition education where emphasis is not solely on nutrition but also on the practical elements of food, that is, proper preparation of food and the nutritious content/value of food.

Key Learnings-Ethical issues regarding the nutritional value of fast food

There is sufficient evidence consumption of fast food; a lifestyle habit is not only linked to obesity but is also bad for people’s health. However, such outcomes emanate to a large extent from practices that have raised ethical concerns for a long time. Obesity and the risk of disorders and diseases provoke the most concern from consumers and other stakeholders such as states, communities and human rights organizations in terms of ethical issues in the fast food industry requiring swift address. Nonetheless, ethical issues such as the use of genetically modified food, Trans Fatty Acid and flavor enhancers that are harmful to human health also require immense attention if the detrimental impacts of fast food are to be reduced.

Fast food companies can neither shun nor delegate the responsibility of addressing these ethical issues to other institutions. They can run and support campaigns that sensitize the people about eating healthy foods even as much as they also advertise their fast foods. People have the option of purchasing and consuming healthy and nutritious food, but they tend to cost more than the fast foods and also require ample preparation before consumption. This is where governments, states and local authorities can step in to subsidize people’s wages and farm produces so as to make healthy and nutritious food more affordable and accessible to consumers.

In as much as fast food companies can eliminate the use Trans Fatty Acid, genetically modified food and harmful flavor enhances from their products which will effectively address these ethical issues, they can only minimize the adverse health effects of their foods and drinks through sensitization, but not change their working diets. It is upon consumers, with the help of healthcare professionals and institutions to change their eating habits to avoid becoming obese and suffering from cardiovascular diseases, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic disorder and cancer resulting from excessive consumption of fast foods. It is imperative to note that while fast foods may contain immense calories and energy that supersede what the body requires in a day, it is only overindulgence or excessive consumption of such of foods and drinks that can cause health risks. Thus, consumers must heed the sensitization campaigns and advice from medical practitioners and alter their dietary behaviors from fast foods to healthier and more nutritious foods and drinks. Otherwise, fast food companies can only ensure that their foods and drinks are free of GMO, FTA and harmful flavor enhancers, and have made efforts to support campaigns such as mindful eating and slow food movement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Bawa, A., & Anilakumar, K. (2012). Genetically modified foods: safety, risks and public concerns—a review. Journal Of Food Science And Technology, 50(6), 1035-1046. doi: 10.1007/s13197-012-0899-1

Boxtel, D., Klijn, M., & Thio, E. (2008). The role of fast-food companies in the Obesity epidemic.

Burger Chakraborty, L., Sahakian, M., Rani, U., Shenoy, M., & Erkman, S. (2016). Urban Food Consumption in Metro Manila: Interdisciplinary Approaches Towards Apprehending Practices, Patterns, and Impacts. Journal Of Industrial Ecology, 20(3), 559-570. doi: 10.1111/jiec.12402

Conrick, T. (2011). Autism and Glutamate Dysfunction – Avoid The Cause – Race To The Cure. Retrieved from https://www.ageofautism.com/2011/03/autism-and-glutamate-dysfunction-avoid-the-cause-race-to-the-cure.html

Gallagher, J. (2018). Ultra-processed foods ‘linked to cancer’. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/health-43064290

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Lee, J., Choi, J., & Kim, H. (2008). Determination of Body Surface Area and Formulas to Estimate Body Surface Area Using the Alginate Method. Journal Of PHYSIOLOGICAL ANTHROPOLOGY, 27(2), 71-82. doi: 10.2114/jpa2.27.71

Lisle, D., & Goldhamer, A. (2006). The pleasure trap. Summertown, Tenn.: Healthy Living Publications.

Roberto, C., Larsen, P., Agnew, H., Baik, J., & Brownell, K. (2010). Evaluating the Impact of Menu Labeling on Food Choices and Intake. American Journal Of Public Health, 100(2), 312-318. doi: 10.2105/ajph.2009.160226

Simmons, D., McKenzie, A., Eaton, S., Cox, N., Khan, M., Shaw, J., & Zimmet, P. (2005). Choice and availability of takeaway and restaurant food is not related to the prevalence of adult obesity in rural communities in Australia. International Journal Of Obesity, 29(6), 703-710. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0802941

Soba, M., & Aydin, E. (2011). Ethical Approach to Fast Food Product Contents and Their Advertisement. International Journal Of Business And Social Science, 2(24), 158-167.

Weiss, T. (2017). Associated Health Risks of Eating Fast Foods. Disabled World.