Big Food perpetuates the national obesity epidemic

Audiences rave over Popeye’s new special chicken sandwich, released on Aug. 12, 2019.
Audiences rave over Popeye’s new special chicken sandwich, released on Aug. 12, 2019.

Timothy Rush | Staff Columnist

Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen took the world by storm on Aug. 12 with the release of their special chicken sandwich, but another big fried chicken company had a swift answer. On Sept. 16, 2019, Kentucky Fried Chicken released the chicken and doughnuts sandwich.

That’s right: KFC had an answer to what was more unhealthy than deep-fried Oreos, and that is slamming a piece of fried chicken between two glazed doughnuts and selling it for $5.99 a piece. Questions regarding the sandwich being good aside—which by the way it is— my question very simply is: are we not going a bit too far with this comfort foodstuff?

Don’t get me wrong, I love all kinds of unhealthy food, but do we need this? There seems to be a trend in our modern culinary culture to essentially make food as unhealthy and as fatty/sugary as possible. From making pizzas as large as possible to single burgers taking up more than half of the recommended daily calorie intake, it seems as though the outcry against harmful diets is falling on deaf ears.

This is a trend that has long been recognized, a common critique thrown at so-called Big Food, but we must analyze this as a culture and recognize how harmful it is.

We are still in the prime of the obesity epidemic. America has an obesity rate of almost 40%, meaning that 2 out of every 5 people are now obese in the U.S., according to the CDC in a 2017 brief. This has been an increase from past years, with us rising by almost 10% since 2000, despite the concern for it. As much as Michelle Obama’s crusade against unhealthy dieting was honorable, it seems that it may have been in vain.

A lot of people do choose to be obese, and that’s fair enough for them, but there’s also a lot of people that are obese but have lots of difficulties losing weight. However, I think if we analyze why people choose to be obese, I think we find a much darker answer. That being that Big Food indeed fetishizes unhealthy eating.

Eating unhealthily is glamorized on TV. While we all go to the doctors and hear about how much dieting and exercising is important to living a healthy life, we all go home and are bombarded by advertisements to eat the brand-new fatty thing from our local fast-food joint. Obesity and unhealthy lifestyles are being commercialized for the sake of making a profit by corporations.

These corporations prey upon people’s desires to feel good while eating, to feel that relaxation that comes with overloading our system on grease and sugar. They glamorize it to make people want it, to normalize unhealthy eating for the sake of profit.

If Big Food was seriously concerned about the obesity epidemic, they’d do more than just include calorie counts that most people ignore. Instead of glamorizing fried chicken, let’s glamorize healthier options like grilled chicken. Instead of sugary sauces, focus on lean seasonings. Society should be looking to make things flavorful and healthy, not doubling down on sugar and fats.

And yes, I do recognize that obesity is something that people need to personally contend with. Ultimately if people want to lose weight, no law or giant societal shift will help people lose weight. There is a large degree of personal responsibility that comes with living a healthy lifestyle, and a person can’t blame their own unhealthy life choices entirely on big corporations. But we can at least acknowledge that enabling people to feel positively towards unhealthy choices certainly impacts that rate and would go a long way in helping people make the right choice.

We are amid a public health crisis, one that is getting worse with each passing year despite plenty of research and public outcry. The time for action is now. In the U.S., alcohol companies have adopted policies wherein their adverts at least attempt to discourage underage drinking. There are also rules and regulations about alcohol commercials, such as distilled spirits requiring a stated alcohol content. Why should fast food companies get a pass on encouraging unhealthy eating?

The point is that these trends in Big Food are hurting our society, and they’re aware of it. While an unhealthy chicken and doughnut sandwich might be good occasionally, we should remember that’s it. These companies must take responsibility for their part in the obesity epidemic, for glamorizing this excess eating.