Fast and fatal

  • 29/09/2005

Fast and fatal You are what you eat: nothing typifies the phrase more aptly than a fast food chomping urban denizen of a developed nation. The us, particularly, was overwhelmed by fast food culture after World War ii. The country's post-war prosperity was built on people working long hours; as a result, they had less time to prepare food and depended more on takeaways that dished out fatty, ready-made meals.

The us consumers' spending on fast food amounted to us$110 billion in 2001 as against us$6 billion in 1970. Surveys have revealed that people in the us spend more on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, software or cars. Little wonder that, many fast food chains have become symbols of us culture.

Big money At the forefront of this revolution is the us fast food chain, McDonald's. Employing nearly half a million people, the company, in 2003, generated revenues worth us $17 billion from its 24,000 stores spread across the world.

The furious growth of the fast food industry precipitated debates on public health hazards and business ethics. Rising obesity levels aroused concern in many parts of the world, especially after the World Health Organization declared the malady an epidemic in 2001. This also coincided with the us surgeon general's report warning that 61 per cent adult and 13 per cent children and adolescents in the country were either overweight or obese.

Europe and Asia are not far behind. According to the International Obesity Task Force, obesity has increased by 10 per cent to 40 per cent in most European countries in the past 10 years. Experts have warned that three-quarters of the population of uk could be overweight within the next 10 to 15 years. The obesity rates are much lower in China: even then, the situation there is quite alarming with 15 per cent men and 16 per cent women overweight. The story is no different in India. According to a survey by the New Delhi-based non-governmental organisation, Nutrition Foundation of India, about 45 per cent women and 29 per cent men in urban India are overweight.

Outrage At the same time there has been widespread public outcry over obesity. Consumer activist groups in many parts of the world have filed suits, alleging that fast food companies glorified the fast food culture. Experts believe that though these lawsuits have not resulted in any action against these companies, the pressure on the fast food industry would increase with the rise in the awareness about obesity.

Bad press compelled fast food companies to take a little different approach. For example, McDonald's claimed to have reduced trans fatty acids iii

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