Criticism of fast food includes 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.
Some of these concerns have helped give rise to the slow food and local food movements. These movements seek to promote local cuisines and ingredients, and directly oppose laws and habits that encourage fast food choices. Proponents of the slow food movement try to educate consumers about what its members consider the environmental, nutritional, and taste benefits of fresh, local foods.
Many fast foods are rich in calories as they include considerable amounts of mayonnaise, cheese, salt, fried meat, and oil, thus containing high fat content (Schlosser). Excessive consumption of fatty ingredients such as these results in unbalanced diet. Proteins and vitamins are generally recommended for daily consumption rather than large quantities of carbohydrates or fat. Due to their fat content, fast foods are implicated in poor health and various serious health issues such as obesity and cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, there is strong empirical evidence showing that fast foods are also detrimental to appetite, respiratory system function, and central nervous system function (Schlosser).
According to the Massachusetts Medical Society Committee on Nutrition, fast foods are commonly high in fat content, and studies have found associations between fast food intake and increased body mass index (BMI) and weight gain. In particular many fast foods are high in saturated fats which are widely held to be a risk factor in heart disease. In 2010, heart disease was the number 1 ranking cause of death. 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 levels of trans fat developed more abdominal fat than those fed a diet rich in unsaturated fats. They also developed signs of insulin resistance, 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 American Heart Association recommends consumption of about 16 grams of saturated fats a day.
The director of the obesity program for the Children's Hospital Boston, David Ludwig, says that "fast food consumption has been shown to increase caloric 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 US Department of Agriculture(USDA), the percentage of calories which can be attributed 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. The USDA recommends a daily caloric intake of 2,700 and 2,100 kcal (11,300 and 8,800 kJ) for men and women (respectively) between 31 and 50, at a physical activity level equivalent to walking about 1.5 to 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life, with the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety guidance suggesting roughly the same levels.
The fast food chain D'Lites, founded in 1978, specialized in lower-calorie dishes and healthier alternatives such as salads. It filed for bankruptcy in 1987 as other fast food chains began offering healthier options. McDonald's has been attempting to offer healthier options besides salads. They have incorporated fruit and milk as options of happy meals and have promoted healthier ads and packaging for kids. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation has set a standard in hopes of pressuring fast food companies to make recommended healthier adjustments.
Besides the risks posed by trans fats, high caloric intake, and low fiber intake, another cited health risk is 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 pathogenic E. coli. Usually spread through undercooked hamburgers, raw vegetables, and contaminated water, it is difficult to treat. Although supportive treatment can substantially aid inflicted individuals, since endotoxin is released from gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli upon death, antibiotic use to treat E. coli infections is not recommended. 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.
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-lives 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.
Schlosser, Eric. Fast food nation: The dark side of the all-American meal. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Retrieved from https://books.google.com.pk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=dU13X_AM_N8C&oi=fnd&pg=PP2&dq=fast+food&ots=DnPkOK3oKl&sig=_XtoQIQbakFGInAVJF1I7CYuYYk#v=onepage&q=fast%20food&f=false
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 6 extra pounds every year. In a research experiment published in Pediatrics, 6,212 children and adolescents ages 4 to 19 years old were examined to extrapolate some information about fast food. Upon interviewing the participants in the experiment, it was reported that on any given day 30.3% of the total sample had 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.
Additionally, in the study 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. Due to having reduced cognitive defenses against marketing, children may be more susceptible to fast food advertisements, and consequently have a higher risk of becoming obese. Fast food is only a minuscule factor that contributes to childhood obesity. A study conducted by researchers at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health showed that poor diet and obesity as an overall factor are the leading causes of rising obesity rates in children. "While reducing fast-food intake is important, the rest of a child's diet should not be overlooked," Jennifer Poti, co author and doctoral candidate in the university's Department of Nutrition.
Contrary evidence has been documented that questions the correlation of a fast food diet and obesity. A 2014 People Magazine article recounts the experience of John Cisna, a science teacher at Colo-NESCO High School, who ate a fast food diet for 90 days. At the end of 90 days he had lost 37 pounds and his cholesterol level went from 249 to 170. Cisna kept to a strict 2,000 calorie limit a day and walked 45 minutes a day. Harley Pasternak, a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert, supports Cisna's experiment by saying, "While I don’t think it’s a great idea to eat too much fast food...I do think he is right. Fast food, while far from healthy, doesn’t make people gain weight. Eating too much fast food too often is what can make you gain weight—the same way eating too much of anything can pack on the pounds."
Spokespeople for the fast food industry claim that there are no good or bad foods, but instead there are good or bad diets. The industry has defended itself by placing the burden of healthy eating on the consumer, who freely chooses to consume their product outside of what nutritional recommendations allow.
The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Effect is a phrase used to judge a category based on judgments from other similar categories or is in relation to them. To put it in terms of the fast food industry, a customer who had a bad experience at a McDonald's would associate that experience with other McDonald's, casting a per-conspired image in their mind of how all other Mcdonald's are. Ioannis Assiouras states that "positive prior CSR leads to higher sympathy and lower anger and schadenfreude toward the company, than negative prior CSR or lack of CSR information."
Many fast food employees are adults who earn minimum wage, which in the United States is around $7.25 for every hour. Around 60% of fast food workers are twenty-five years and older.
Many employees have protested to raise the minimum wage. On December 5, 2013, protesters from 100 cities in the United States held demonstrations for a $15 hourly wage. This protest was one of a series of strikes that began 2012, in New York City, protesting against low wages.
John Merritt, senior vice president of public affairs for Hardee’s says their "strategy is not necessarily to move towards healthier items" but "to move towards more choice."
McDonald's has announced that they plan to include fruits and vegetables in their menu combinations. Don Thompson, McDonald's chief executive states, "We’ve been trying to optimize our menu with more fruits and vegetables and giving customers additional choices when they come to McDonald’s."