by Khadijah Ali (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 4, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1444)
Americans are obsessed with size, especially relating to food: supersize fries and hamburgers and drinks. Then there are supersize houses, supersize cars, supersize skyscrapers and supersize companies. Add to that America’s supersize ships, naval fleets and of course the supersize military budget that has surpassed the $1.5 trillion mark, and one can begin to get an idea of Americans’ obsession with size. The US military budget is more than the combined military budgets of the next 10 countries.
Let us, however, focus on America’s eating habits and their disastrous effect on people’s health. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a government agency that monitors health issues in the US, reports that “obesity in the United States affects 100.1 million (41.9%) adults and 14.7 million (19.7%) children and accounts for approximately $147 billion in annual health care costs.”
Obesity also causes more than 300,000 deaths each year, far surpassing deaths from smoking. Gun violence, another major problem, does not come even close with some 40,000 deaths annually.
The American agency, Healthline, says that if the number of overweight people (30.7%) are added to those who are obese, then “more than two-thirds of US adults [some 220 million people] in the United States are overweight or have obesity.”
Houston, we have a problem!
If there is one American fast-food brand that is known worldwide, it is McDonald’s. Its huge golden arches are visible on virtually every street corner in every American city. Slick advertising has hooked Americans on “double quarter pounder cheese hamburgers”, super-size fries and large drinks: Coke, Pepsi and other fizzy sugary drinks. Most Americans—and indeed many people in other parts of the world as well—frequently get Mac attacks!
Ronald MacDonald is the most recognized figure in the US, especially among children. Even George Washington cannot compete with him. Further, McDonald’s has surpassed all other fast-food and junk food outlets by creating a special association between children’s lives and their fast-food products. This is done by means of special “happy meals,” games and toys, birthday parties, and recreation facilities in and around their restaurants.
McDonald’s has been so successful in its advertising campaign that even the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was forced to write that no two countries that have McDonald’s restaurants have ever fought a war. That the golden arches have not been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize so far is clearly an oversight on the part of the Norwegian committee!
McDonald’s has hooked most American children and teenagers on its junk food. The results are alarming: the number of overweight and obese American children has doubled and the figure for teenagers has tripled in recent years. This has resulted in a major health crisis.
One American, Donald A. Gorske (born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin) holds the world record for having eaten over 32,672 McDonald’s hamburgers in his lifetime, earning him a place in the Guinness Book of Records. He is known as the “ultimate Big Mac fan”. Gorske is featured in the documentaries Super Size Me (2004) and Don Gorske: Mac Daddy (2005), and is the author of 22,477 Big Macs (2008).
Gorske insists there has been no adverse effect on his health. There is, however, another American—Morgan Spurlock—who took it upon himself to study the effect of eating McDonald’s hamburgers every day for 30 days. This was part of his 2004 documentary, ‘Super Size Me’, to find the link between fast food and obesity in America.
Before embarking on his Big Mac eating binge, Spurlock and his crew enlisted the services of several health and fitness professionals. They monitored his health before, during and after eating McDonald’s burgers for a month. Before beginning his eating odyssey, Spurlock, in his early thirties, was given a perfect bill of health. One doctor even remarked that he was starting off with “terrific” health.
The doctors told Spurlock that the 30-day McDonald’s diet would probably cause a higher blood-cholesterol level, but that his body would deal with the increased fat and salt easily. The rules for McDonald’s diet were simple.
Throughout the month, Spurlock had to: eat a “super-size” meal if asked; eat only those foods that are for sale over the counter at McDonald’s, including water; eat everything on the menu at least once in the 30 days; and eat three full meals a day.
Being extremely lazy, not to mention being incredibly stupid, more than 60 percent of Americans get no form of exercise whatever, other than walking occasionally. So, Spurlock decided to replicate that behavior. He wanted to be the typical average American.
Lest people assume that McDonald’s is all about hamburgers, fried potatoes and soft drinks, they should think again. In the US, McDonald’s sells a whole range of foods including sausages, egg and pancake breakfasts, salads, fish and chicken sandwiches, and ice-cream and yoghurt, in addition to a large array of hamburgers and several meal-combinations.
Along with its slick advertising that is quite seductive, McDonald’s employees are also trained to ask customers whether they want to ‘super-size’ their meal, which means getting an additional amount for a few cents more. Over the years, American fast-food portions have grown bigger, so what was once a small size is now a “kiddie size,” while several increasingly larger sizes have been added to the menu.
On the second day of his fast-food diet, while ordering lunch, Spurlock was asked whether he wanted to super-size his meal. He accepted the offer, according to the rules he had laid down for himself.
For the next 20 minutes the film shows him trying valiantly to finish the meal. At first, he is joking about the enormous amount of food, which includes half a pound of fried potatoes and a quart of soda, along with McDonald’s trademark “double quarter pounder” hamburger with cheese. But half-way through Spurlock looks less enthusiastic, and at the end of the meal, in one of the more shocking scenes in the film, he vomits the meal out the window of his parked car.
Five days into his junk food experiment, Spurlock checked in with his nutritionist. His caloric intake had doubled, and he had put on 10 pounds. His doctors, consultants, friends and family became worried that he was causing irreversible damage to his body. One doctor even advised that he give up the diet before the month was ended. Spurlock endured.
The doctors did not expect the strain on his liver and heart that the diet caused. By the end of the experiment, Spurlock’s weight had increased by nearly 25 pounds. Into his third week, he also realized he had become addicted to the junk food diet and would feel depressed when hungry, but then got a sort of high immediately after eating.
The McDonald’s diet nearly ruined Spurlock’s health in a single month. It took more than 14 months of a strict vegan diet for his cholesterol and liver functions to return to normal, and for him to lose most of the weight he had put on.
The documentary won several awards but it did not address the issue of growth hormones in most foods that Americans (and Canadians) consume, especially meats and milk products. Animals reared in industrialized are fed growth hormones to increase their body mass and for cows to give more milk. These hormones are then consumed by people eating meat or drinking milk.
In fairness to Spurlock, he followed up his 2004 documentary by a 2017 sequel, ‘Super Size Me2: Holy Chicken’. He addressed the question of hormones being fed to chickens to fatten them quickly.
Unfortunately, western junk food has invaded traditional Muslim societies as well where McDonald’s, KFC or Wendy’s have replaced their perfectly healthy diet. “You are what you eat,” is a well-known saying. Muslim societies are making a huge mistake abandoning their natural healthy diet for junk food. Is it surprising that they are now being afflicted by the same diseases so prevalent in western societies?