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Why Do We Eat Junk Food?

With the rise of obesity in our society, it is not hard to imagine see that the consumer use of junk food is part of the blame.  Though the obesity epidemic is obvious, it is not clear why we continue to eat junk food.  By examining factors like marketing, lifestyle, and education, one can quickly target those areas in our own lives and move quickly to make changes to improve the health of our nation.  The three are connected in various ways, but it is helpful to examine them separately at first.

• Marketing plays a huge role in the access and distribution of junk food in our society. 
• American lifestyle embraces a culture of eating junk food as part of normal recreational activity.
• The education system has failed to adequately promote nutrition education alongside physical education.

When traveling across major cities like New York, Minneapolis, San Diego, Chicago, and Atlanta, literally around every major street corner is a fast food restaurant.   Fast food is readily available for those of us who understand that time itself is money.  In our society, time is valuable.  When we all have to do lists and planners to help maximize our time, fast food seems to be the easiest way to get more accomplished.

In addition to the fact that fast food is readily available, the heavy use of commercial ads on all major stations makes it impossible to watch your favorite show on television without seeing a friendly ad with chipper addicting music and cute children.  Important to note, one thing missing from those ads are obese people.  I wonder, if these ads showed obese people enjoying an over-sized hamburger, would they have the same appeal?


Besides marketing, the typical American lifestyle and culture has also played an important role in the obesity epidemic.  When going to the movie theatre or a sports event, it is acceptable for us to buy some of the unhealthiest food available.  Between the high levels of saturated fat and salt, we seem to think we’re invincible against hypertension and high cholesterol. Also part of our culture is the donating to charity by accepting something in return, like chocolate or cookies.  Sure, we all love the Girl Scout cause, but do we really have to indulge in 3 boxes of peanut butter cookies?

So, what about the poor in our society?  Not everyone in our society can afford to take part in recreational activities and accept cookies for donating to a good cause, yet we still see obese people.  For them, junk food is fast food and fast food is readily available and generally the cheapest in the sense that it does not require the use of a well stocked kitchen and fills you up in little time.  It is, shall we say, “cost efficient” for a poor person or family.  Why pay a few dollars for soup in a restaurant when you can buy chips, donuts, and pop for the same price and be full for longer?

Finally, we examine education, or shall we say the LACK of education.  Despite being seen as global leaders, nutrition education is not valued as much as math or English.  It is very rare to find a school that requires all students to take nutrition or cooking classes.  Even physical education, which at a minimum encourages water over soda, doesn’t receive as much funding as the science or math departments.

Then there’s the lack of education children receive at home.  Just like parents explain in grave detail the importance of avoiding drugs and violence, they need to teach their children how to make positive eating choices like eating fruits more often than candy and buying a salad meal w/ milk instead of a double hamburger meal w/ fries.


Now it is clear how marketing, lifestyle, and education affect our ability to choose healthy food over junk food.  They are connected in many complex ways, but the most important thing to remember is that if you want to eat healthy, you have to address all of these areas.  Take the following steps to avoiding junk food:

• Try to plan your meals when going out.  Bring your own lunch, but if you can’t, buy a salad instead of hamburger.  You can add chicken to the salad for protein to help fill you up.
• Try donating to charities and good causes without accepting cookies in return.  If you want something back for your effort, try a tax deduction instead.
• Try to read about why junk food is so unhealthy and ways to add more healthy foods to your diet.  There are lots of free healthy recipes online.  Take advantages of a few.

These three steps can help you change your lifestyle to the point where you avoid junk food on a subconscious level, which is more ideal than counting calories.
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