The impact of technology and fast food on the obesity epidemic 1
Running Head: Bill Gates is as much to blame for America’s obesity epidemic as Ronald
McDonald. What do you think?
The Battle of the Blame: Who is causing the Obesity Epidemic?
Leah Shields, Anthony Joshua and Jessica Jones
University of Florida
The impact of technology and fast food on the obesity epidemic 2
The Battle of the Blame: Who is causing the Obesity Epidemic?
In recent times our society has grown larger and larger both in number and size. With
over 65% of the US adult population either overweight or obese, (Varnes, 2008) leads on the
cause and who to blame for this epidemic offer a challenge to researchers on the source of this
enormous problem. One clear debate is whether Bill Gates and his technology advances with
computers or Ronald McDonald and the McDonald’s corporation’s excessively calorie dense
tremendous portions served to millions daily are truly to blame. Both parties have thoughtfully
designed their products to be convenient and useful in today’s busy on the go lifestyles that longs
for the fastest and cheapest way to get the job done and family fed. However, research points the
finger at the fast food industry in regards to overall impact on the weight status of individuals
that eat at one of its numerous restaurants. Combined with America’s new trend of increased
sedentary lifestyles, these unhealthy meal alternatives will kill over thousands of people this year
Here in lies the question of what impact does the technology world play and what
research has been conducted in order to determine their effects on obesity. A study in Victoria,
Australia on children aged 5-13 years old looked at the time spent watching television and
playing video games related to their body mass index and subsequently their obesity risk factors
(Hesketh, K., Wake, M., & Waters, E., 2003). Parents reported the amount of time children
watched television and used video/computer games, children’s eating and activity habits,
parental BMI and sociodemographic details. The report revealed that with the 2,862 subjects
surveyed, the scores related to television viewing time were not significantly related to body
mass index scores, nor were they for computer games and time spent on the computer doing
things other than homework there seemed to be no conclusive relationship and each only
The impact of technology and fast food on the obesity epidemic 3
accounted for 1% and .2% of total BMI variance, respectively. This information supports the
idea that there are several other more influential factors that exist between the increase in
childhood obesity and decrease in activity besides technological advances. There has been an
obvious shift in activity among children but other features such as neighborhoods safety and the
amount of recreational facilities in the area (Varnes, 2008).
With fast food restaurants popping up on every street corner these days it isn’t difficult to
see why the temptation for indulging yourself on a regular basis wouldn’t be tempting. It is easy
to see that fast food restaurants far outnumber grocery stores, especially in lower socioeconomic
neighborhoods, (Varnes, 2008) and to make matters worse you don’t even have to leave your car
to treat yourself to a Big Mac or Whopper. Without haste many parents would rather pull
through a drive-thru rather than taking the additional time to find a quality grocery store and
painstakingly make healthful food selections at a much higher cost. It is also important to realize
that at times grocery stores just aren’t available or so far away from where a family lives that
traveling expenses are too much to overcome. A study that took place in Canada sought to
determine whether or not socioeconomic status had an impact on the prevalence of grocery stores
and fast food restaurants. This study found that in poorer areas the number of fast food
restaurants was higher than that for the number of grocery stores by a margin of 3 to 1. The
study also stated that in those areas there was a greater prevalence of single parent households in
which time and resources are stretched thin and to the limit. If the option is to drive 20 minutes
to the grocery store or walk 5 minutes to the McDonalds the decision is essentially made for the
busy parent on a tight schedule and budget.
Misleading advertising also plays a huge role on the part of the fast food industry when it
comes to the obesity epidemic. Since the consumer has begun to focus more on health, the fast
The impact of technology and fast food on the obesity epidemic 4
food industry has in turn introduced “healthier options.” What they don’t tell you is that
although these options are healthier than fries or onion rings, they shouldn’t necessarily be called
healthy. People have tried to draw attention to this fact stating, “Recently, the chain
(McDonalds) added to its menu supposedly healthy salads, some of which have been found to
contain more calories than a Big Mac” (1¶, Ritzer). In fact numerous court cases have been
brought against McDonald’s arguing that the chain is responsible for the excessive weight gain
of many of its customers. Judge Robert Sweet has presided over one such case and cited that
McDonald’s food “may be more dangerous than a customer would have reason to expect” (2¶,
Wald). To give better perspective it is important that people educate themselves to the specific
nutrition facts for each individual fast food establishment. According to McDonald’s website
there are still salads that have as much or more calories than a cheeseburger. That means that
your healthy green salad choice is still contributing well over 500 calories per serving without
the oily dressing that accompanies it which usually contains anywhere between 100 and 220
additional fat calories. A great example of this is the new Premium Asian salad with crispy
chicken that by itself 410 calories but the salad dressing offers another 90 calories giving a total
of 500 calories. On the other hand you can enjoy a Big and Tasty burger for 410 calories and
save money while at the same time feeling much fuller afterwards. It’s nice that restaurants give
the illusion of offering healthier portions but it is very misleading to a customer that would
automatically assume that a salad would be healthier.
Confusing consumers even further, nutrition facts are not uniform for the entire company,
meaning McDonalds burgers in one area may differ in fat content from another McDonalds in a
different region. A recent study has shown that chemical analyses of 74 samples of fast-food
menus consisting of French fries and fried chicken (nuggets/hot wings) bought in McDonalds
The impact of technology and fast food on the obesity epidemic 5
and KFC outlets in 35 countries in 2005–2006 showed that the total fat content of the same menu
varies from 41 to 65 g at McDonalds and from 42 to 74 g at KFC (Astrup, A., Dyerber, J., &
Stender, S., 2007). Furthermore, even though the nutrition facts may be known and available,
they are still very deceptive due to the lack of consistency in nutritional content and the ideas of
healthier options that only lead to consumer ignorance.
The affect of fast food on the obesity epidemic has also been shown in numerous
documentaries and individual observational studies. Perhaps the most well known is the
documentary entitled “Super size Me,” in which the main character and director Mr. Sprulock ate
McDonalds food 3 times a day for 30 days and over that period gained 11 kg and experienced
numerous health issues. Although he was carefully monitored by several cardiology specialists,
dieticians and nutritionists, the observations were far more disturbing than anticipated. Besides
gaining the weight described, Sprulock also showed signs of renal and kidney failure as well as
direct cardiac output decline. However, it is very unlikely that these adverse side effects would
have occurred if Mr. Spurlock had chosen to eat fruits and vegetables three times a day while
conducting his experiment. This illustrates how consuming large quantities of fast food in a
regular and continuous manner can lead to many serious and harmful health conditions and why
it should be done on an extremely limited basis.
The health effects of weight gain are far and wide. An American population study
performed by Cardia dealt specifically with weight gain and insulin resistance in relation to fast
food consumption. Participants were studied over a 15 year period to determine if eating fast
food more than twice a week was detrimental in the two previously mentioned categories. This
group was compared to a group in which participants ate fast food less than once a week. The
study concluded that there was positive correlation between fast food consumption, increased
The impact of technology and fast food on the obesity epidemic 6
weight gain and risk of insulin resistance which can lead to type II diabetes among other health
Obesity is increasing in the USA; at the turn of the millennium around 30% of Americans
were clinically obese compared with 23% of the population during the period 1988–94. Obesity
causes an extra 300,000 deaths among Americans and health-care costs of $100 billion each year
(Lancet, 2005). Eating meals from fast food twice a week is associated with more than doubling
the risk of abnormal glucose control and a fifty percent increase in the risk of obesity. When you
eat fast foods, you eat fewer vegetables, fresh fruits, less whole grains, and a reduction in
reduced-fat dairy products and fiber.
Technology has also had an impact on the diets of Americans but not as great of an
impact as fast food. As a duo, fast food and technology is a devastating blow to the health of
Americans. Americans aged 18 through 30 eating habits showed that frequent fast food meals
and hours spent watching TV combined to increase the odds of obesity and abnormal glucose
metabolism. People who watched TV more than three hours a week and ate fast food more than
twice a week were three times as likely to have abnormal glucose metabolism than those who
watched less than an hour of TV per week or ate fast food less than once a week (Kartashov,
Fast-food restaurants can argue that the evidence that customers are becoming unhealthy
by their meals is too weak. Steps should still be taken to counter any of this evidence such as
reducing portions to normal sizes, and to sell burgers of lean meat, whole-grain bread or buns,
fat-reduced mayonnaise, more vegetables, lower-fat fried potatoes, and reduced-sugar soft
The impact of technology and fast food on the obesity epidemic 7
So what can you do to not become a statistic or conform to this trend of obesity? First,
reduce your meals from fast food restaurants. Try to exercise for 60 minutes of moderately
intense exercises a day. Eat healthier by following the My Pyramid guidelines. Eat a variety of
different foods and keep portion sizes under control. Try to avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Own a
pet, because this will help you to become more active by taking the pet for a walk. Let your
voice be heard to policy makers in your area who control zoning in neighborhoods for the
amount of sidewalks and access to full-service grocery stores in all neighborhoods and demand
limitations on the density of fast food restaurants.
The obesity epidemic has taken America a mouth full at a time. We have been promoting
unhealthy eating habits for too long. The fast food industry has become a financial dynasty
because of our poor nutrition. It’s time to take control of our choices and start living a healthier
life. Let’s make a change from our now predisposed future of an obesity controlled life and
become active and develop proper nutrition and eating habits.
*All works cited in paper, constitutes bibliography.
Astrup, A., Dyerber, J., & Stender, S., (June 2007). Fast food: unfriendly and unhealthy.
International Journal of Obesity, 31-6, 887-890.
The impact of technology and fast food on the obesity epidemic 8
Hesketh, K., Wake, M., & Waters, E. (2003) Television, computer use and body mass index
In Australian primary school children. Child Health 39, 130–134.
Lancet (2005, January 17). U.S. study highlights clear link between increased fast-food
consumption and obesity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2008, from
Kartashov, A.I., Ebbeling, C.B., (2003, March 10). Fast food and 'the tube': A combo for heart
disease risk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com
Ritzer,G. (2004 May).McDonalds serves up a fresh serving of PR. The Ecologist, 34(4),114.
Retrieved July 29, 2008, from Omnifile Full Text Media database.
Smoyer-Tomic, K., Spence, J.C., Raine, K.D., Cameron, N., Yasenovskiy, V., Cutumisu, N., et
al. (2008 December). Association between neighborhood socioeconomic status and fast
food outlets. Health and Place, 14(4),740-754. Retrieved July 29, 2008. from Academic
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Varnes, J. (Summer 2008) Class discussion notes. HSC4950. Behavioral and Environmental
Determinants of Obesity.
Wald, J. (2003, February). McDonalds obesity suit tossed, US Judge says complaint fails to
prove chain is responsible for kids weight gain. Retrieved July 23, 2008, from