Monday, January 5, 2009

The Fast Food Controversy: Is McDonald's really a culprit?

The McDonald's jingle is known nearly everywhere. A teenager walks down the street whilstling "I'm lovin' it!" and the people around him grin and nod. Maybe they are even impulsive enough to buy a McDonald's cheeseburger. This is easy enough to do, with 123 McDonald's stores around South Africa. I went to one of these stores recently, and was amazed at how overcrowded the McDonald’s fast food chain store was. People of varying races, ages and sizes were sitting down, wolfing down greasy, lopsided burgers; brown oily fries and large Cokes. And they sure were lovin’ it! It also crossed my mind that many of us eat the same food on a regular basis; some of us nearly every day! And many of us rarely stop to think about the types, quality and quantity of food we put in our mouths and their effects on our bodies.

In the past, McDonald’s has found itself in a lot of hot water and has been slammed for its poor quality food. It has also been accused of taking advantage of the “little people” through persuasive advertising and has been involved in numerous court cases which claim that McDonald’s food causes obesity.

Taking Advantage of the "Little People"

In the McLibel court case, McDonald’s was accused of using gimmicks to market their fast food meals at kids. These gimmicks were aimed at making a child’s visit to the restaurant fun, thus encouraging them to return to that same restaurant again. McDonald’s is now aiming their advertising at teenagers and low-income households, who will buy the food as it is cheap and they think you get more value for money. However, this is not the case. In the States, there is the new One Dollar Menu, where for just under one dollar; young people can buy burgers or nuggets with fries. But for that one dollar, there are not enough essential nutrients to make that meal worthwhile. This one dollar menu is also being offered is also being offered to young people already at risk for chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes. Thus, people are spending their income on cheap food and saving money, but are creating a heavy health cost at the same time. This situation is no different in South Africa, where nearly 50% of young people are overweight or obese and are at risk.

Does McDonald's Fast Food Cause Obesity?

In order to determine this, one has to look at how Obesity is caused and the nutrient content of McDonald’s products. Obesity is caused by the combination of a poor, inactive lifestyle and poor diet. High fat, highly processed fast food has lots of kilojoules, which may not be burnt up. This is then stored in the body as fat. These poor diet and lifestyle choices soon become habitual and lead to obesity.

The McDonald’s website (in South Africa) gives a menu with all of its products, but it doesn’t give the ingredients or nutrient content in these products. The American McDonald’s website does however give a breakdown. McDonald’s food products do provide the consumer with carbohydrate, protein and fat; however the quality of those essential nutrients is questionable. The carbohydrates are refined and low in fibre; the fat is highly saturated and has very little unsaturated fat and the meat is also fatty. Thus the general consensus about McDonald’s food (and most fast foods in general) is that they contain high amounts of saturated fat, animal protein and sodium (salt) and they contain very little fibre and should not be eaten often.

The report that McDonald’s food causes obesity is unfounded. If McDonald’s food is incorporated into a normal healthy diet, it will not cause obesity. In a court case in 2003, two obese New Yorkers claimed that the McDonald’s food they had eaten several times per week had caused their obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure (hypertension), as McDonald’s had not informed them of the high fat, sugar salt and cholesterol levels in the food. However, it could not be proven that McDonald’s meals caused their ailments, as it could have been due to genetics.

  • It should also be noted that obesity can also be caused by eating large quantities of any food, particularly starchy foods like potatoes and chips, cakes, pastries and bread as well as fatty meats and sweet foods like chocolates, ice-cream and sweets.
McDonald’s literature suggests that its food be eaten in moderate amounts and a variety must be eaten, but this does not help the person choose how to plan a healthy diet and decide on how many times per week to eat McDonald’s.
Finally, McDonald’s is a global economic company, which tries its hardest to persuade the public that its food is good for them and that they should buy it. Despite enforcing a “Get Active” programme and giving balanced lifestyle tips, McDonalds is a culprit as it does not encourage its customers to choose the healthier and more expensive options and is still able to sell more cheeseburgers and fries than healthier meals and salads. There is also no specific guideline which tells you how many times per week to eat fast food, however having it once or twice every fortnight and whilst continuing to eat a healthy diet seems acceptable and shouldn’t cause obesity. So enjoy your next Big Mac and keep this post in mind!


  1. Hi Kait
    I just wanted to thank you so much for all the advise and encouragement you've given me with the difficulties I've had to put on weight. Ever since my chest surgery in 2005 I've battled to put on weight and feel good about myself physically and mentally. Thanks to your eating programme and fitness guide lines I've managed to gain weight and still look and feel good about myself.
    They way you managed to put a diet plan together that consisted of all the things i like to eat was amazing. There have also been noticeable change in my skin complection and hair growth.
    Many thanks for everything. Very excited to hear about your blog. Will be a vigilant follower.
    Thanks again :-)

  2. Thanks Bronny! Very happy to hear all the good news! Keep reading because there are more posts to come...(they will come!)
    If there is anything else you would like to know or if there is a topic you want to rad about further, just let me know!
    All the best =)

  3. Hey Kaity koo. Am lovin' the articles. you got the gnack pretty fast. :)