The $150-Billion plus fast-food industry greatly impacts the health of the people in the United States and around the world. The concept of speed, convenience, practically hustle-free dining, reasonable pricing, and the “good” taste of the food items, have all been most attractive to consumers globally. Not addicting in the strict sense, but comfort “gastronomic delight” to some people, especially the French Fries. The problem is these food items are considered “junk foods” by nutritionists and the medical community as a whole, who recommend consuming them only occasionally, especially by children. And the soft drinks (with the phosphoric acid and some other ingredients in them) that come with the “Meal” are, without any question, toxic to the human body, contributing to the development of Metabolic Syndrome, especially among youngsters. Individuals with Metabolic Syndrome or its resultant illnesses (Obesity, High Blood Pressure, Diabetes Mellitus, Heart Disease, Stroke, Alzheimer’s, and Cancer), are also high risk for COVID-19, young or old, more so among seniors.
Class action suits
A trial lawyer in the United States, Sam Hirsch, in 2002, sued McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC on behalf of his obese clients. Of the tobacco companies that had been sued, he says “you can’t stop tobacco from being unhealthy, but you can make food less unhealthy.” Obviously, he was referring to the health dangers of what many people consider junk foods, with high cholesterol, fats, and other unhealthy ingredients, causing obesity and major illnesses.
Nobody thought the suits (the first one in 1983, and dozens thereafter) filed in the United States by families against the giant tobacco firms on behalf of their cancer-stricken or dead loved ones, would succeed. But they did, with one individual getting as much as $50 plus million award, and billions in settlements thereafter, and the industry finally admitting they knew for decades tobacco was addicting and could cause cancers.
As a cardiac surgeon, I do agree with one essence of this suit: that these food chains and other purveyors of food have the social obligation to make their products less unhealthy, or, better yet, as healthy as possible for the consumers, especially for the children. These youngsters are still developing habits and lifestyle that are essential for their future.
Apparently pre-empting the loss of its health-conscious consumers, and future legal aftermaths for food companies, the largest food giant in the USA, Kraft, decided to “set the pace, launching a sweeping global overhaul of the way it creates, packages, and promotes its foods.” Kraft announced then its plan to reduce the portion size, fat and calories of its food products. This move was expected to have a worldwide impact on other food companies and consumers around the globe.
McDonald’s, for instance, introduced its Happy Meal in the summer of 2003, replacing the popular but fat-filled and deadly French fries, with a bag of fresh, sliced fruits. More and more restaurants started having a salad bar. Fish was added to the menu and became a popular option. There is today a greater awareness of the health benefit of staying away from high cholesterol foods, like red meats (beef, pork, etc) and eggs, and concentrating on fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other high-fiber foods, as the mainstay of our diet.
Obesity and cancer
A chart from the American Obesity Association of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention published in USA Today showed the following prevalence of obese children ages 6 to 11: From 1976-1980, 7%; from 1988-1994, 11%; from 1999-2000, 15.3%. The incidence of obesity among 12-19: From 1976-1980, 5%; 1988-1994, 11%; and fast-forward to 2020: 18.5% average, highest in West Virginia (20.3%), Louisiana (19.1%), Oklahoma (18.7%), Ohio (218.6%) and Texas (18.5%). Obesity is a major risk factor in the development of major illnesses and cancer.
Lifestyle is vital
There is no question in my mind that healthy lifestyle (for maximal health and longevity) must start from the crib because prevention is the key to great health. Children, as young as five or six years of age, who died of accident or disease, have shown on autopsies to have a thin lining of cholesterol plaques in their arteries (brain, heart, abdomen, etc). We, parents, must be doing something wrong for these youngsters, at those tender ages, to have arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) already. This is the essential message in the book I have written, entitled Let’s Stop Killing Our Children, an anthology of cardiovascular and other diseases, with emphasis on prevention starting from the crib, written in layman’s term, a coffee-table health reference. The book is listed in the Library of Congress. (www.philipSchua.com)
There is no better antidote to diseases and premature death than living a healthy disciplined lifestyle. This includes the combination of diet, exercise, abstinence from tobacco, disciplined moderation in drinking, rest and relaxation as part of stress management.
Genetics does play a role in arteriosclerosis, but it is noteworthy that only one in 500 people has the genetic defect that leads to familial hyperlipidemia. It is, therefore, obvious that only one in 500 has the “excuse” to have this abnormally high level of cholesterol. The 499 of us, who have no excuse at all, simply abusing ourselves to early death.
Children of parents who had heart attack and/or stroke do not necessarily have to “inherit” these diseases. We now have enough scientific data to show that if these children live a healthier lifestyle unlike (compared to) their parents, by doing daily exercises, watching their diet and weight, abstaining from tobacco and excessive alcohol, taking time out for rest and relaxation, and managing their stress effectively—they do not have to have the same fate as their infirm parents. In short, the environmental factors and personal discipline (a healthy lifestyle) can greatly outweigh the negative effects of bad genes.
While genetics play a role, our fate is not sealed at birth, and what becomes of us is basically within our control and depends to a large degree on what we do and fail to do. When it comes to our health, science has shown that “the ball is almost always in our court.” What direction it will take for ourselves and for our children rests on our own choices and decisions.
In fairness to the tobacco and food industries, we, the consumers, should share a great part of the blame. Nobody is holding a gun against our head, forcing us to smoke cigarettes or to eat high-cholesterol or junk foods. The choice is entirely ours. Discipline is the key. We ought to know better. Our health and future are really in our hands.
And let’s not forget, we have only one life, with no spare in the trunk.