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Fast food has come under criticism over concerns ranging from claimed negative health effects, alleged animal cruelty, cases of worker exploitation, and claims of cultural degradation via shifts in people's eating patterns away from traditional foods. Fast food chains have come under fire from consumer groups, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a longtime fast food critic over issues such as caloric content, trans fats and portion sizes. Social scientists have highlighted how the prominence of fast food narratives in popular urban legends suggests that modern consumers have an ambivalent relationship (characterized by guilt) with fast food, particularly in relation to children.
This guilt is projected onto processed food, where bizarre tales of contamination and lax standards are widely believed. Some of the concerns have led to the rise of the slow food, or local food movements. These movements seek to preserve local cuisines and ingredients, and directly oppose laws and habits that favor fast food choices. Proponents of the slow food movement try to educate consumers about what its members considers the richer, more varied and more nourishing tastes of fresh, local ingredients that have been recently harvested.
Health based criticisms
According to the Massachusetts Medical Society Committee on Nutrition, fast food is especially high in fat content, and studies have found associations between fast food intake and increased body mass index (BMI) and weight gain. A 2006 study fed monkeys a diet consisting of a similar level of trans fats as what a person who ate fast food regularly would consume. Both diets contained the same overall number of calories. It was found that the monkeys who consumed higher level of trans fat developed more abdominal fat than those fed a diet rich in unsaturated fats. They also developed signs of insulin resistance, which is an early indicator of diabetes. After six years on the diet, the trans fat fed monkeys had gained 7.2% of their body weight, compared to just 1.8% in the unsaturated fat group.
The director of the obesity program for the Children's Hospital Boston, David Ludwig, claims that "fast food consumption has been shown to increase calorie intake, promote weight gain, and elevate risk for diabetes". Excessive calories are another issue with fast food. According to B. Lin and E. Frazao, from the Department of Agriculture, states the percentage of calories which attribute to fast-food consumption has increased from 3% to 12% of the total calories consumed in the United States. A regular meal at McDonald's consists of a Big Mac, large fries, and a large Coca-Cola drink amounting to 1,430 calories. A diet of approximately 2,000 calories is considered a healthy amount of calories for an entire day (which is different depending on several factors such as age, weight, height, physical activity and gender). This number of calories was set in 1917.
The fast food chain D'Lites, founded in 1978, specialized in lower-calorie dishes and healthier alternatives such as salad. It filed for bankruptcy in 1987 as other fast food chains began offering healthier options.
Food poisoning risk
Besides the dangers of trans fats (which were only used after animal fats came under attack because of the cholesterol risk), high calories, and low fiber, there is another cited health risk: food poisoning. In his book Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Eric Schlosser argues  that meatpacking factories concentrate livestock into feedlots and herd them through processing assembly lines operated by employees of various levels of expertise, some of which may be poorly trained, increasing the risk of large-scale food poisoning.
Manure on occasion gets mixed with meat, possibly contaminating it with salmonella and Escherichia coli 0157:H7. E. coli 0157:H7 is one of the worst forms of food poisoning. Usually spread through undercooked hamburgers, it is difficult to treat. Although antibiotics can be used to kill the bacteria, the organisms release a toxin that produces harmful complications. About 4% of people infected with E. coli 0157:H7 develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, and about 5% of children who develop the syndrome die. The rate of developing HUS is 3 in 100,000 or 0.003%. E. coli 0157:H7 has become the leading cause of renal failure among American children. These numbers include rates from all sources of poisoning, including lettuce; radish sprouts; alfalfa sprouts; unpasteurized apple juice/cider; cold cooked or undercooked meat; and unpasteurized animal milk. Additional environmental sources include fecal-contaminated lakes, nonchlorinated municipal water supply, petting farm animals and unhygienic person-to-person contact. An average of sources leads to the number of 0.00000214% for undercooked beef.
Food-contact paper packaging
Fast food often comes in wrappers coated with polyfluoroalkyl phosphate esters (PAPs) to prevent grease from leaking through them. These compounds are able to migrate from the wrappers into the packaged food. Upon ingestion, PAPs are subsequently biotransformed into perfluorinated carboxylic acids (PFCAs), compounds which have long attracted attention due to their detrimental health effects in rodents and their unusually long half-life in humans. While epidemiological evidence has not demonstrated causal links between PFCAs and these health problems in humans, the compounds are consistently correlated with high levels of cholesterol and uric acid, and PAPs as found on fast food packaging may be a significant source of PFCA contamination in humans.
Fast food negative effects
On average, nearly one-third of U.S. children aged 4 to 19 eat fast food on a daily basis. Over the course of a year this is likely to result in a child gaining six extra pounds every year. In a research experiment done by Pediatrics, 6,212 children and adolescents ages 4 to 19 years old were examined to find out some information about fast food. After interviewing the participants in the experiment, it was discovered that on a given day 30.3% of the total sample have reported to have eaten fast food. Fast-food consumption was prevalent in both males and females, in all racial/ethnic groups, and in all regions of the country.
Children who ate fast food, compared to those who did not, tended to consume more total fat, carbohydrates, and sugar-sweetened beverages. Children who ate fast food also tended to eat less fiber, milk, fruits, and non-starchy vegetables. After reviewing these test results, the researchers concluded that consumption of fast food by children seems to have a negative effect on an individual's diet, in ways that could significantly increase the risk for obesity.
- Robin Croft (2006), Folklore, families and fear: understanding consumption decisions through the oral tradition, Journal of Marketing Management, 22:9/10, pp1053-1076, ISSN 0267-257X
- "Fast Food, Race/Ethnicity, and Income: A Geographic Analysis".[dead link]
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- http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/tpnovel.html[dead link]
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- http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/01/05/health/main591325.shtml "Fast Food Linked to Child Obesity."
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