Skip to comments.Fast Food As Health Food?
Posted on 01/26/2004 2:28:09 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
ST. PETERSBURG - Atkins diet devotee Lisa Shelton tossed proof of her shrinking waistline - a pair of dark-blue denim, size 20 Lee jeans - over the bike rack at the Blimpie franchise downtown. Since August, the 29-year-old has lost 70 pounds. Her fast- food diet menu includes bacon cheeseburgers without the bun.
Shelton and a long line of customers were attracted by heavy radio advertising by Blimpie promoting a new Carb Counter Menu of subs, chips and drinks - and the idea that a chain called Blimpie can help oversized Americans melt fat.
In exchange for Blimpie food coupons, dieters were invited to bring bragging rights - pants that were now too big.
Shelton had dropped four sizes since summer. The jeans she carried to Blimpie symbolized triumph over a lifelong weight problem.
``I'd like to lose another 50 pounds,'' said Shelton, who counts carbohydrates each day according to the popular Atkins diet that promotes protein over the carbohydrates in breads, potatoes and pastas.
Like Blimpie, nearly every fast-food company in the country is trying to attract customers who want to lose weight.
The potential customer base is huge. Nearly two-thirds of Americans are obese or overweight.
Fast food is quickly becoming synonymous with diet, in part because of television commercials featuring Subway's Jared, the college kid who became a spokesman after he lost more than 100 pounds by munching exclusively on low- fat sandwiches.
The Subway Diet became a household phrase.
Recently the chain announced its new ``Atkins- friendly'' menu, a line of low- carb sandwiches for Atkins diet followers.
Signs on Subway entrances link the chain to heart health. Big letters say ``Be Good, Be Heart Smart.'' Smaller letters tout sponsorship of the American Heart Association's Heart Walk.
After decades of promoting supersized burgers, fries and sodas, companies such as McDonald's have gone further than adding menu items to create images as obesity fighters.
Their aim: To hold onto customers and public goodwill amid growing awareness of the sharp rise in obesity and fat-related health problems such as Type 2 diabetes.
Government Gets Involved
In Florida, concern about how rising obesity rates might devour the state's health care budgets prompted Gov. Jeb Bush to appoint a Task Force on the Obesity Epidemic. The panel's conclusions are to be delivered to state legislative leaders next month. Bills have been filed that could affect school lunches, nutrition and physical education.
If George Washington University law professor John F. Banzhaf were making the recommendations, fast-food companies would be required to post signs to warn consumers that frequent fast-food meals raise the risk of getting fat and that obesity increases heart disease. He also would have them prominently display information about fat and calories on menu boards.
``People might think twice about buying Meal No. 10 if they knew it had 1,100 calories,'' he said.
Banzhaf began a work group to explore how fast-food companies and other food corporations can be sued over obesity. He is an expert in cases against tobacco companies and has seen how lawsuits can change public policy.
Obesity lawsuits have gone to court in New York and California.
Plaintiffs in a New York City lawsuit filed two years ago included a 13-year-old who weighed 278 pounds and a 15- year-old who was nearly 400 pounds. The case was dismissed in September. The law isn't designed to protect people from overeating, the judge said.
Banzhaf predicts more suits will be filed.
Up to 15 percent of U.S. children are overweight. A form of diabetes once seen almost exclusively in heavy adults has become common in schoolchildren. The rise coincided with a fivefold increase in fast- food consumption among children since 1970.
Behind that jump are frazzled parents who shuttle children from after-school care to soccer practice and don't make time for home-cooked dinners.
A study by obesity researchers at Children's Hospital in Boston found nearly one-third of all children in the United States between ages 4 and 19 eat at fast-food restaurants each day. The habit creates enough excess calories to add about 6 pounds a year to a child's weight.
Meanwhile, campaigns at McDonald's promoting healthier food are steering the obesity debate away from criticism that Happy Meals entice preschoolers to eat less-healthy food.
As well as promoting a line of salads, the fast-food giant is emphasizing physical activity.
In school shows and personal appearances, McDonald's icon Ronald McDonald encourages children to be more active. Oprah Winfrey's former trainer, Bob Greene, joined the company last year as a spokesman to stress exercise and healthier choices.
Chains Address Concerns
There are other fast-food plans to influence public opinion:
* In December, Burger King became a sponsor of the President's Challenge Physical Activity Fitness Awards Program. The company said it plans to pay about $1 million for patches and award certificates signed by President Bush for children in selected schools who pass fitness tests. In exchange, Burger King will use the President's Challenge name on its kids' meal bags, tray liners and Web site.
* McDonald's introduced Adult Happy Meals in Indianapolis last spring. They will will be available nationally by May. The meals contain a salad, bottled water and a pedometer that helps users count steps.
* Amid calls for more prominent displays of calorie counts and fat grams in restaurants, the back of new McDonald's tray liners soon will contain nutrition guides for menu items. Locally, the liners will be in McDonald's shops as supplies of other tray liners run out, a spokeswoman said.
* Burger King has covered both low-fat and low-carb trends, with a line of sandwiches on baguette bread and new bunless burgers served in bowls.
* Hardee's has a Thickburger presented as a low-carb option and wrapped in iceberg lettuce.
* Last fall, KFC started advertisements comparing the fat content of fried chicken to that of a Burger King Whopper, claiming fried chicken can be part of a healthy diet because it has less fat. The concept earned criticism and the ads stopped around Thanksgiving, but mention of the October campaign remains on the KFC Web site.
* Nearly every fast-food chain has nutrition slogans and fitness tips splashed on their Web sites, such as ``Keep It Balanced'' at KFC and Taco Bell.
Despite the new marketing emphasis, not all fast food has become health food.
Kickboxing With Ronald
And kids may get fat if they subsist on chicken nuggets, no matter how much companies such as McDonald's and Burger King promote exercise.
``Some healthier choices are available, but the menus are still very stacked,'' said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an agency in Washington that has been a food industry watchdog for years.
``There are a couple of healthy eating choices in a minefield of unhealthy choices. ... It's easier to eat badly at McDonald's,'' Wootan said.
To navigate fast-food menus, consumers must be nutrition- savvy. For instance, substituting a salad for a burger doesn't guarantee fewer calories and less fat. Dressing- drenched greens can contain more fat and calories than a double cheeseburger.
Fast-food involvement in health efforts are targeting the young as well.
An example is the antiobesity efforts of Get Healthy Florida, which kicked off a youth campaign Dec. 8 at an Orlando middle school. The event was portrayed as a statewide health initiative supported by the Florida Department of Health.
Ronald McDonald and Greene were on hand to encourage an audience of 300 sixth-graders to get up and kickbox.
Future efforts by Get Healthy Florida may include more fitness instruction at McDonald's restaurants in Central Florida, said Shannon Sayre, a freelance television producer who founded Get Healthy with two partners, including a doctor from an Orlando hospital.
``There isn't a better place to reach kids than the parking lot of McDonald's,'' Sayre said, adding that no contracts have been signed with the fast-food company.
Get Healthy Florida isn't a public health agency. It is a for-profit company that solicits corporations to sponsor health events, such as flu-shot clinics.
Packages can include airtime to publicize the sponsorship on a TV station.
``Get Healthy Florida, if you want to get a little clearer, is an advertising agency,'' said Henry Maldonado, general manager of Orlando television station WKMG.
The December event at Memorial Middle School in Orlando included a 10-member youth task force of middle schoolers from nine Central Florida counties. Each member got a free bicycle.
The youth group, which is supposed to forward ideas to the governor's obesity panel, was picked by a representative for McDonald's, said Sarah Sekula, who works on the McDonald's account at an Orlando public relations firm.
At the Center for Science in the Public Interest, such tactics anger Wootan.
``Food companies are very nervous about being blamed for rising obesity rates. So they're launching campaigns to deflect blame that put most of the emphasis on physical activity,'' she said.
``I think it's really irresponsible of these companies to position themselves as good corporate citizens. ... They want people to believe that, `If I just exercise, I can eat this stuff.' ''
In reality, you would need to run 9 miles in one hour to burn off one Whopper.
At Blimpie, an exercise campaign has been added to supplement the chain's Carb Counter Menu.
Blimpie offers Lisa Shelton and similar customers the chance to win coupons for two free weeks at a local gym or 15 free sessions with a personal trainer. Radio disc jockeys eat Blimpie low-carb subs on the air and invite listeners to call in to win the training sessions.
``It's part of `Be your best with Blimpie,' '' said the company's Florida area representative Burt Shryock.
The idea that luscious food can be sold as slenderizing appeals to Shryock, who owns an interest in 150 Blimpie franchises.
An upcoming cheesecake with zero net carbs ``will knock your socks off,'' he said as he watched customers pour into Blimpie on St. Petersburg's Central Avenue.
``We're bringing in customers we haven't seen.''
Reporter Susan H. Thompson can be reached at (813) 259-7951.
TRADITIONAL AND NEW Fast-food companies are marketing new menu items as healthier choices for consumers who want to eat diets lower in calories, fat or carbohydrates. Here's a sample of traditional menu items and newer choices, plus how far you would need to walk briskly* to burn them off. McDonald's Traditional Big Mac 600 calories 33 grams fat 50 grams carbohydrates Miles: 7 1/2 New Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad with dressing 390 calories 24 grams fat 13 grams carbohydrates Miles: 5 Burger King Traditional Original Whopper 710 calories 43 grams fat 52 grams carbohydrates Miles: 9 New Santa Fe Fire-Grilled Chicken Baguette 350 calories 5 grams fat 47 grams carbohydrates Miles: 4 1/2 KFC Traditional Original Recipe Chicken Breast, mashed potatoes and gravy, and biscuit 700 calories 33.5 grams fat 52 grams carbohydrates Miles: 9 New Twister sandwich 670 calories 38 grams fat 55 grams carbohydrates Miles: 8 1/2 Taco Bell Traditional Regular Chalupa Chicken Supreme 370 calories 20 grams fat 30 grams carbohydrates Miles: 4 1/2 New Fresco-Style Chalupa Chicken Supreme 310 calories 14 grams fat 30 grams carbohydrates Miles: 4 Sources: McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Taco Bell * Mileage estimate is based on a 150-pound man or woman walking 3.5 miles per hour.
Eat only when you are truly hungry
STOP when you are full (not OVER-full)
Don't sit at the computer all day - get some exercise
Pass the potato salad, please.
Here's an article on it:
The Other Side of Soy
I'm sure you can do a Google or Google News search on soy and read various other articles, then you can make up your own mind. Personally, I have no opinion one way or the other unless they come out with some more conclusive research. I don't eat soy, anyway... I just don't care for it.
Clearly, this must be stopped.
Been doing Atkins for a year. Cholesterol went from 200/50 to 150/75. I'm down 10 lbs. too. I'm in the "fit" range for body fat. I'm in my 40s.
You know what, people? I eat carbs. Tons of carbs. Nearly 70% of my daily intake is made up of that bugaboo of pseudo-healthy conformity: carbohydrates. Why can I eat so many carbs? Nay, why *must* I eat so many carbs? Because I excercise. And carbs are enegry. The only time that this energy makes you fat is when you're too lazy to work the calories off. I take breaks and walk at work. And after my job, I get off of my bum and run. Excercising the body, doing what it has evolved to do: aka moving around and sweating, engaging in aeorobic activity, and living an active life keeps you healthy. Eating a fast food burger wrapped in lettuce? Now, that's not healthy; that's just frelling stupid and lazy.
I don't think I have an allergy to soy, but I am going to do some more research. I may change to almonds as a snack now.
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