Archive | April, 2012

Buy me some peanuts and…

28 Apr

Cracker Jack!

A little bit of junk food history!  Cracker Jack was the first commercially successful junk food.  German immigrants Frederick and Louis Rueckheim started selling popcorn on the streets of Chicago in the 1870’s.  The Rueckheim’s found the perfect blend of popcorn, molasses and peanuts shortly afterwards.  Their popcorn experiment would soon turn into a worldwide sensation.  They started packaging their product in the 1980’s and promoted it all over the country, selling it at sporting events, snack bars, and circuses and fairs.  By 1913, Cracker Jack was the best selling commercial confection in the world!

A major reason for Cracker Jack’s success was… guesses? No? Advertising!  They specifically focused on advertising to children.  This included putting a small toy in every package.  Sound familiar anyone?  Originally, coupons for various household items were included in Cracker Jack boxes.  When the switch to toys was made, sales exploded.  By 1970, Cracker Jack was in 41% of American households.  Product sales began to decline at this point after similar products began to be made to mimic Cracker Jack.

Who doesn’t know the famous “Take me out to the ballgame” lyrics? (referenced in the title of this post).  This song was written in composed in 1908 and made Cracker Jack famous forever.



Pay Attention to Portions

25 Apr

No…quite the opposite, actually.


So the large is only thirty cents more, huh?  I want you to stop and think for a second.  Do you really need the large?  A contributing factor in the obesity epidemic is the loss of perception when it comes to portion sizing.  Nowadays, we tend to think bigger is better.  And this does not only apply to fast food.  This applies to all foods.  In fact, this extends beyond food and into other aspects of American life.  Bigger cars, bigger TVs, bigger everything.  This kind of mindset has also, predictably, given us bigger bellies.

Now, even though McDonalds may have technically gotten rid of their “super-sized” options, their current large is not much different.  All they really did was change the names of the sizes.  And it’s not only food portion sizes that have been on the rise, it’s also dishware.  Plates are bigger than they ever used to be.  Studies have shown that when people are given larger plates and bowls, they will go ahead and serve themselves larger portions.

What is a consumer to do?  Be conscious of how much food you are eating.  Don’t eat while watching tv, as this has been shown to lead to higher calorie consumption.  Always go with the smaller sizes.  If you are full, there is nothing wrong with taking home some leftovers.  Don’t feel as though you need to eat everything in sight!  Eating slow may also help prevent you from over indulging.  It is up to you to take responsibility for your own health.  You can do it!

Here’s a link to a short quiz to test your portion knowledge:


Is fast food addictive?

23 Apr

That has been up for debate in recent years.  Personally, I find that if I have a couple fast food meals in a week, I may go on a binge over the next couple weeks.  It is addictive for me, at least on a small scale.  I may crave multiple meals in a short period of time but then not touch the stuff for a month.

Well, the issue of fast food addiction is being researched currently and there have been some interesting findings so far.  An article called “Burgers on the brain” featured in New Scientist digs into the issue of fast food addiction.  I’ve listed some of the key findings that stuck out to me as I read the article:

–          Early exposure to fatty foods can rewire children’s bodies to always want fatty foods.

–          High fat diets, or even just a few high fat meals, can alter the body’s response to leptin, a fat regulating hormone.

–          Eating energy-dense foods triggers the release of endorphins, and results in a secretion of dopamine (the happy hormone).

–          The brain may become dependent on the opiods released after consuming a large amount of sugar.

The article does state that the evidence is not conclusive and that more research is needed.  I wouldn’t say that fast food is as addictive as drugs like heroin or cocaine, but it does have its addictive qualities.  I think it is clear that there are physiological changes that occur when we consume these high calorie and high fat meals.  More research is certainly needed.



20 Apr

In my researching efforts for this blog I have recently come across the term “McDonaldization.”  My first initial reaction went something like “what!?”  After reading a bit more about it I have decided to dedicate a post to the concept.  However, this post will be quite different from any of my previous ones.

As it turns out, McDonaldization is term developed by a man named George Ritzer, who wrote a book about it in 1993 (The McDonaldization of Society).  Now, this concept doesn’t necessarily pertain to the specific foods served at McDonalds and it does not necessarily pertain to the nutrition of McDonalds or fast food as is the usual topic of discussion on this site.

McDonaldization does, however, refer to a lifestyle and a culture.  McDonaldization is the idea that a culture has the same characteristics of a fast food restaurant.  The theory consist of four princicples:

Efficiency – getting a task done the quickest or most optimal way.  For McDonald’s customers this would be the quickest way to get from hungry to full.  In the bigger picture of the theory, efficiency just means that society has become focused toward the minimization of time for all aspects.

Predictability – All McDonald’s provide the same service.  Related to society-jobs are becoming more repetitive and predictable.

Calculability – Quantity over quality.  More food in a short amount of time is equal to high quality food.  In the workplace, employees may be judged by how much work they are getting done, not the quality of it.

Control – standardized employees; the replacement of humans by machines and/or technology.

I think there is something to be said for this theory.  It is an overall lifestyle and culture change that Americans are adopting.  I’m not saying there aren’t any flaws with the theory, and I surely have not done enough research on the topic to be an expert, but there are definitely some truths to it.


Soda and Society

15 Apr

It is a staple of every value meal at fast food restaurants.  I myself used to drink as much as I could get my hands on in my younger days (I have since kicked the habit completely).  It’s…SODA!  Soft drinks woohoo!  Sugar!  Extra calories!  Cavities!  You’ve got to love this stuff.

On a more serious note, soft drink consumption is a part of the fast food problem.  As I have said in some of my earlier posts, it is best to skip out of the soda and go with water when you’re looking to get the most benefit from a fast food meal.  But let’s face it, how many people actually do that?  Apparently not many at all according to a report called Liquid Candy from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  Here are a few of the astonishing facts listed in the report:

–          In 1999-2002, the average 13-18 year old boy consumed two 12 oz. cans of soda a day.

–          Carbonated soft drinks are the single biggest source of calories in the American diet.

–          In 1977-1978 boys consumed more than twice as much milk as soda (girls consumed 50% more milk).  In 1994-1996, both boys and girls consumed twice as much soda as milk.

–          Companies annually produce enough soda to provide 52.4 gallons for every man, woman, and child.

Whew!  Of course, it has been noted in this blog as well as pretty much every health resource that obesity and overweight statistics have been increasing over recent years.  Drinking all of this soda, not to mention other sugar filled beverages such as juices, leads to displacement of other important nutrients.

Over the past few years I have tried make a point out of sticking to my main two beverages of water and skim milk.  I did enjoy my fair share of soda consuming years, though.  I did not stop drinking it until I got into high school.   If soda were to be banished from the country (I know, never going to happen), I think there would be a drastic improvement in individual health throughout the nation.


Fast food and youth sports

10 Apr

Is there a connection?  For me, there certainly was.  I remember one of my favorite parts about plaing baseball when I was 10 years old and it had nothing to do with the game on the field.  After most games and some practices, we would stop at McDonalds on the way back home.  Those were my prime eating days, too.  I’m pretty sure my personal record was 5 double cheeseburgers in one meal.  Impressive? Gross?  Probably a bit of both.

Back then it sure seemed as if I could eat anything that I wanted to and it didn’t affect me.  I was an active young kid who played a lot of sports.  I was also a growing boy and all the food never translated into any weight gain.  I was lucky, for sure.  My metabolism was lightning quick, the story could have been a lot different if it wasn’t.

Back to the main point, though.  Is fast food linked to youth sports?  I happen to think it is.  Sports equals practices and games which equals time away from home and the absence of a sit down dinner in a lot of cases.  In my situation, we lived one mile from a McDonalds and we passed it one the way home from the baseball field.  Highly convenient for my parents.  Should they not have stopped so much? Probably, but I don’t blame them one bit.

According to an article featured in Current Sports Medicine Reports, youth involved in sports are more likely to consume fast food, drink sugary beverages, and consume more calories overall.  They are also more likely to consume milk, and fruits and vegetables.  So, there are two sides to the story.  Youth sports definitely do lend themselves to a sort of on-the-go lifestyle for families that can lead them to purchasing fast foods.  The question remains, how much harm is that doing?


Fast food toy ban, effective or not?

7 Apr

A little over a year ago, San Francisco implemented a ban on the children’s toy that usually comes with McDonald’s Happy Meals.  The ban stated that a meal had to fit a certain nutritional standard in order for the toy to be included.  In order to be served with a toy, the meal must contain:

–          Fewer than 600 calories

–          Less than 35% total calories from fat

–          ½ cup of fruit

–          ¾ cup of vegetables

–          Less than 640 milligrams sodium

–          Less than .5 milligrams trans fat

Obviously, this is a move made to try to put a halt on childhood obesity.  Regulating what McDonalds can and can’t serve is a tricky ordeal.  Should governments regulate fast food meals?  Do you think they have the right to?  In my opinion, parents should be the ones in charge of monitoring what their kids are or aren’t eating.  However, advertising toys with meals is specifically targeting children and I don’t feel that this is right either.

I have seen some articles compare the fast food industry to an earlier version of the tobacco industry.  Comparing the tobacco industry’s initial attitude of proclaiming that their product isn’t harmful to a person’s health (despite a boatload of research saying it is) to the fast food industry’s constant denial of their product as being “bad” for you.  There are also the comparisons about each industry targeting the younger population.

What do you think, is this toy ban fair or foul?  Should toys be allowed to be sold at all with kids meals?  Does this open the door for more bans and regulations on fast food service?