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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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March 06, 2008

Reader Response: Fast Food Indulgence, Dirty Marketing Tricks and Personal Responsibility

By Worker Bee
50 Comments

In response to last month’s post about Carl Jr.’s fat fetish, conversation got going about occasional fast food indulgence (the temptations, the how-to’s, etc.) as well as whether we were placing too much blame on corporate marketing and not enough on individual immoderation. Reader Rachel offered this perspective:

I gotta say I don’t see anything wrong with indulging once in a while. I understand the popular opinion is that fast food is bad wrong and should be banished from the world. However, as Carla the first commenter stated “moderation”. We as individuals need to take responsibility for what we eat. The whole idea of “the companies made me eat it” is BS. We control our actions not the evil CKE empire. Yes it looks tasty, yes they market it that way- if they were to market cat food in the same way, would everyone eat that too? Come on now people, let’s start taking responsibility for ourselves and stop blaming the handsome fit young man enjoying the obscene mammoth burger for our lack of self control.

We’re all for taking control and responsibility for our own health (That’s what this blog is all about!), and we agree that innocent victim and evil corporate empire is an absurd representation of the situation. At the same time, we dislike shady, tricky, misleading, dishonest (did I miss anything?) marketing schemes. Carl Jr.’s ad campaign double-dog dares its target audience (which we’ll leave for others to dissect) to stick it to the “Man,” who is, by all estimation, a convenient amalgam of the medical establishment and every health advocate, representative and family physician they encounter. “Talk to the finger, doc! Real men don’t think about their health!” Gee, there’s an inspiring example.

We understand it’s free will at work here and that folks sometimes indulge for the sake of taste or lack of time, airport options, etc. But, let’s look at the real message. Clearly, the ad emphasis isn’t on enjoying their monstrosity burger as an occasional indulgence. Indulgence – the concept, even the very word screams “wuss” in this ad paradigm. “Indulgence (scoff)! This is lunch.”

Here’s the rub. These companies aren’t marketing their fare in the pattern of Baskin Robbins. We’re not talking “treat.” They’re out to sell their product as a “meal” and regular work day routine at that. There’s nothing random about the common image of workers riding together, grabbing their lunch through the drive through with hard hats still on. And the message translates. Life follows ads as much as the ads follow life, we’d argue. And it doesn’t bode well for those individuals down the road. But that part was missing, I believe, from the ad campaign.

Those guys’ choice? Ultimately, yes, but we tend to also find fault with the company that sold them on the daily habit and exploited the ignorance behind the choice. Selling self-destruction just doesn’t sit well with us. (And asking tax payers and/or insurance customers to pick up the tab later for these folks’ folly and these companies’ exploitive profit doesn’t exactly make our day either.)

And then there’s the issue of the seedlings. Happy meals, kids’ menus, cartoon contracts and Play Land (birthdays and play dates always welcome!). Start ‘em young. (Why does this strategy sound familiar?) Sure, blame the parents. We do. Yet, the same argument above holds. Only in this case, it’s the ruin of children’s health that brings in the profit. These kids see that it’s “their” restaurant, their colorfully boxed meal, their accompanying little toy prize, etc. Why, how generous of the corporation to be so thoughtful! Oh, and well-intentioned parents out there: be prepared for the guilt trips if you choose to blow off Ronald and his gang. The ads are careful to illustrate that loving, fun moms and dads take their kids to McDonalds. What’s wrong with you? (O.K., the seedling issue really brings out the fist-shaking curmudgeon in us. We’ll take a breath and back away from the soap box now.)

That all said, we get it that we all make our own choices. And we’re not about letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Avid apples know that we cherish our sensible vices. What constitutes a sensible vice differs from person to person based on what people truly enjoy, what enhances their subjective sense of quality of life. Sure, we aren’t about to advise anyone to make fast food one of those, but that’s our perspective.

Admittedly, it’s hard to find decent studies about the health effects of an occasional fast food indulgence. There are simply too many variables: what kind of fast food, how much, how often, what the rest of the diet is like, how much exercise, etc., etc. A few studies and more informal experiments (ala “Super Size Me”) have analyzed physiological changes related to fast food consumption over a month’s period, and they aren’t too pretty (increasing blood pressure increase, building insulin resistance, abdominal fat gain, etc.).

One big beef of ours (pardon the pun) is the carb load in these meals. The white bread bun, the acrylamide-laced fries, the mammoth sodas… Can you feel your insulin rising just thinking about it? Clearly, leaving those elements off the table, as some readers said they do, makes a big difference. As for fat? Yes, we’re friends to fats, including the saturated crowd. But 1400 calories and 107 grams of fat in one sandwich seems like a waste of a day’s eating to us.

And what are you really getting with that 1400 calories? Not much in terms of nutrients. A heck of a disproportion in terms of omega ratio. Yikes. (Carl Jr. better be popping them fish pills.) Sodium galore and MSG to boot. Preservatives none of us can pronounce and few of us want to imagine, let alone see in action. (But in case you do, here’s the link to the infamous jar experiment from Super Size Me.)

Each of us makes compromises every day, and as prevalent as fast food is in our society, it’s bound to figure into the picture for many of us. At the end of the day, it’s all about informed choices. And as excessive as fast food ad campaigns might be getting these days, at least there’s more information out there about the foods themselves than there was ten or twenty years ago.
And, gee, it was those crazy health advocates who applied the pressure that eventually resorted in their disclosure! Too bad, Carl.

brainware3000, VirtualErn, soundfromwayout Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Carl’s Jr.: ‘Feel Good About Being Fat’

How to Eat More Chocolate and Drink More Wine Every Day

They Did It! A 134-lb hamburger has been constructed! (I hope you can sense the sarcasm.)

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50 Comments on "Reader Response: Fast Food Indulgence, Dirty Marketing Tricks and Personal Responsibility"

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Anna
8 years 6 months ago
I pretty much agree with everything in the post. But the “stickin’ it to the man” attitude that we are seeing now in these ads is a response to the annoying, constant barrage of that same “health” information that that has permeating the media in the past 20-30 years. Much of that information is now revealed as false or misguided, biased both economically and politically, premature, and to some degree, actually harmful. No, I don’t think chomping down on a Carl’s Jr burger is a good way to deal with the frustration I feel every day I read and hear… Read more »
Neal W.
Neal W.
8 years 6 months ago
You think people are fat now? Just wait until we get universal health care. It’s just simple economics that if people do not bare the full burden of costs for their actions then they have little incentive not to take part in those actions. With universal health care people will not feel the burden of the costs created by their obesity, which will do nothing but feed (pun intended) more behaviors that lead to obesity. As the costs of health care continues to increase, and because the government (i.e. taxpayer) is picking up the tab, what will be next step… Read more »
Scott
Scott
6 years 4 months ago

Have you been to Europe? Universal health care is ubiquitous and obesity occurs at a far lower rate. It’s absolutely amazing how attractive everyone is when they aren’t overweight or obese.

I don’t think universal health care is the problem here–

Jax
Jax
1 year 4 months ago

So basically you’ll find any excuse to trash a concept you do not understand?

Dave C.
8 years 6 months ago

be prepared for the guilt trips if you choose to blow off Ronald and his gang

I’m just the opposite. I have guilt trips because I don’t blow off Ronald (or the King. If I could get frequent flyer miles for this kind of trip, I could probably travel around the world in first class several times. I still take my grandkids for fast food, although I don’t eat it myself (except for a salad). I’ve at least had some success in convincing one of them to eat salads and pass on the fries.

Dave
DaveGetsFit

Kevin Burnett
Kevin Burnett
8 years 6 months ago

Interesting take on health care Neil. Got any stats to back up the claims – more fat people in Canada and a thriving black market for junk food?

Donna
Donna
8 years 6 months ago

@Dave,
You’re setting a wonderful example to your grandkids to eat healthy, good for you!

Randy S
Randy S
8 years 6 months ago

“At the end of the day, it’s all about informed choices.”

This would be a lot easier if the food industry didn’t spend millions (possibly billions) each year to avoid having to actually “inform” me as to what they’ve added to my food, or to prevent me from having a “choice”, say between GMO and non-GMO.

Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 6 months ago
Agreed…Health is a CHOICE. To bad modern medicine convinces people it’s all in their genes from everything from obesity to diseases. Health is so basic if we think of it as in term of cell health. We are made up of trillion of cells, and if we rebuild and repair our cells more than we destroy them…we are healthy….disease is when the rate of destruction is more than our ability to repair and detoxify waste. So…what we eat, dictates what we give our cells to repair…I think they want enzymes, minerals, vitamins and amino acids from healthy sources…and not sugar… Read more »
Neal W.
Neal W.
8 years 6 months ago

Kevin,

Obesity in Canada is lower than the U.S. even though Canada has universal health care, but that doesn’t disprove my assertion. That would make the same mistake that researchers do when they say, “saturated fat consumption in Okinawa is lower than in the U.S., and the Okinawans have less heart disease, therefore saturated fat must contribute to heart disease.”

Also, why would Canada have a junk food black market if they have yet to take the step of regulating food consumption? To my knowledge they have not taken that step yet.

Dr. J
Dr. J
8 years 6 months ago

“We as individuals need to take responsibility for what we eat.”

I believe in the “Is it working test?” Taking responsibility is NOT working! People need a little help. 🙁

Dr. J
Dr. J
8 years 6 months ago

Mike OD,
Why the need to make a negative comment about medicine? If you leave that sentence out of your comment, the comment is valid and besides that overly exaggerated comment about medicine adds nothing to your point.

Neal W.
Neal W.
8 years 6 months ago

Helping people is great if they ask for it, but there is no excuse for forcing help on people who don’t want to exercise or eat healthy. Whether or not to be healthy is a personal choice.

Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 6 months ago
Dr J, My bad, was not intending to imply all doctors are “evil” by any means as I know plenty who try to get their patients to eat better and exercise. A better wording would of been the “Health Care System” in general promotes more pharma solutions and less personal responsibility….I understand not all doctors are that way. My point was people who go to a doctor just to in some way feel relieved to get a “disease” name to their symptoms are in no way helping to take control of their health, they instead rely too much on a… Read more »
charlotte
8 years 6 months ago
Does anyone here not live in California? The coastal divide crops up in your posts every once in a while but especially so today. I’m from Seattle, a city where I could find healthy fare (fresh produce year round! salmon right off the boat!)fairly easily. Then, due to a job change, we moved to the Midwest. Don’t get me wrong, I love it here, but the food culture is entirely different. Fresh produce doesn’t grow here except for 3 short months in the summer. All fish come batter-fried. And if we never allowed the kids to go to McD’s, they… Read more »
Anna
8 years 6 months ago
What about all the people who are diligently trying to do as they are told, lowering their SFA intake, upping the “whole grains”, moving more, in other words, being “responsible” (as defined by the health authorities), yet at their annual physical exam, life insurance application medical exam, or employer-mandated physical exam, they are told they now have high cholesterol or LDL and have to take a Rx for it, even though they actually have no “disease”? They’re frightened (or else feel backed into a corner) and do as they’re told. That is just one of the nasty sides of this… Read more »
Migraineur
8 years 6 months ago
Here’s another really wonderful take on personal choice: http://breadandmoney.com/thefreeradical/?p=138 I came to the conclusion recently that I cannot rely on the food-industrial complex to supply me with full-fat fermented dairy products, so I am in the process of dropping out of that supply chain entirely. I bought cultures for buttermilk, yogurt, and kefir from New England Cheesemaking Supply, so I simply won’t be buying the junk that passes for yogurt, kefir, and buttermilk any more. Next step: find a farm source of milk. For now, I’m stuck with grocery store milk, much of which is ultrapasteurized and doesn’t ferment well,… Read more »
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Dr. J
Dr. J
8 years 6 months ago

Mike OD – IF Life,

Thanks, I love when we all get along! And yes, I agree with your feelings and observations about the use of drugs. I’m working on an article at the moment criticizing that approach by mainstream medicine. My personal view is to support the individual with medications if necessary while they are making lifestyle changes, which in most cases will eliminate the need for drugs. Thanks again!

Alyssa
Alyssa
8 years 6 months ago
Sorry Neal, I just can’t buy your argument. I’ve spent a lot of time in countries where they have universal health insurance, and not one of the nightmare scenarios you present has come to pass. In fact, I found the opposite to be true. People take more and better care of themselves. I understand your reticence in having the government step in and tell us what we can and cannot eat (that IS a nightmare!), but it seems to be happening already (see Mississippi, and the bill recently brought into the legislature, or NYC banning all trans-fats) WITHOUT universal health… Read more »
Neal W.
Neal W.
8 years 6 months ago
Alyssa, While Mississippi doesn’t have universal health care, the government is still heavily involved in the health care industry. Think medicare/medicade, and employer mandated health insurance. My argument looks at nothing more than incentives and the way humans act. That is, if you don’t bare the full burden of the costs for actions you value then you increase those actions. For example, person A values bad food and leisure more than health. Hypothetical Value Scale (1) 5 units of bad food (2) 5 units of leisure (3) Good health They incur medical costs of the amount X due to their… Read more »
Anna
8 years 6 months ago
Alyssa, how about the UK? What is happening with the “food police” there is very, very scary. The UK has a pretty large obesity problem, too (they are the largest people in the EU). I have in-laws cared for by NHS, and there are lots of problems with that system, too. It is far from perfect and it is hard to buck the system there. My problem isn’t so much forcing “help” on people who just don’t want help, it’s the problem that much of that “help” that is forced on people is not only not effective, it’s often counterproductive… Read more »
Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 6 months ago

Sad fact is that you can’t save everyone. Although there has to be a better way to get the truth out there as what passes for health info in mainstream is far from it. Slowly it is happening with the use of the internet (sites like this) and books like Good Cal, Bad Cal…but it’s a slow process, like anything that happens in on an evolutionary scale…we just want things overnight in our modern age of instant gratification…and nature moves at a different speed.

Migraineur
8 years 6 months ago
Anna wrote: “but if I followed much of the advice from conventional medicine, the mailings from my insurance company, the mass media, and Big Pharma, I would be much worse off – low fat, high carb diets will put me on a fast track to excess weight, T2 diabetes, and lots of drugs. I’m not the only one, either.” No, you’re not the only one. I’m with you. I am working on a little series of personal experiments where I try out different foods and test my blood sugar. Steel cut oats, a “healthy whole grain,” sent my blood sugar… Read more »
Anna
8 years 6 months ago
Neal, Sure, there are people who live in the moment and do whatever they want, no matter the consequences. Sometimes the consequences are predictably bad, but not always. But what about the people who *do* value good health and *do* everything the authorities tell them will lead to good health? Living in a relatively well-educated, mostly prosperous area, I can’t even count the number of people I personally know, in exactly this scenario, and they are suffering bad health (or setting themselves up for it), sometimes at fairly young ages, specifically because of this “help” and advice, because the conventional… Read more »
Alyssa
Alyssa
8 years 6 months ago
Hey Anna You make so many good points. It seems like the obesity rate in the UK coincided with the rise in fast-food restaurants, and a faster pace of life. And yeah, healthcare USED to be great, but it has gone WAY downhill in the past 10-15 years. Neal, your point sounds good in theory, but not in practice. In countries where UHC works, it works because everyone is invested in the form of taxes. I realize the system isn’t perfect, and would require a shift in our thinking, but any change does. The current system doesn’t work, either. I… Read more »
Neal W.
Neal W.
8 years 6 months ago

Alyssa,

What is an example of a country where universal healthcare works?

Scott
Scott
6 years 4 months ago

Anecdotal evidence, I know–but I received superb health care in Canada after a life threatening snowboarding accident. Light years ahead of any care I have received in the US or any country for that matter. It’s amazing what can happen when doctors don’t make decisions based on monetary concerns or pressure from insurance carriers.

Not to say I didn’t pay–my US HMO covered 100%. The fees were less than 10% of the cost of comparable care in the US. Not that the US care COULD compare in any way.

Vesna
8 years 6 months ago

The problem really is the carbs.

Check out the Fathead movie site. Filmmaker Tom Naughton explains how he ate all his food from McDonald’s for a month, and lost weight. He just kept the sugar and starch down.

I think Morgan Spurlock could have done the same, had he not gorged on the carbs. The thing that bugs me about Supersize me is how he put the blame on fat.

http://www.fathead-movie.com/

Alyssa
Alyssa
8 years 6 months ago

Neal,

Sweden.
It ain’t perfect, but it’s better than what we’ve got. Americans have shorter life expectancies than many other industrialized nations. Despite the fact that some of the most groundbreaking research is done here, and we have amazing medical facilities. But most of us don’t have access to either.

Neal W.
Neal W.
8 years 6 months ago
Many Swedes don’t have access to health care either, because they wait months and months and even die waiting to get treatment. This is a typical result of socialism. You also commit a fallacy when you causally link Sweden’s health care system with longer life expectancies. You are confusing correlation with causation. What is the average obesity rate? Amount of exercise? Average diet? There are many other factors that could account for the Swedes longer lives. Furthermore, if Sweden keeps up it’s socialist ways, it will eventually fall. It is already a poor nation. The average Swede has an income… Read more »
Alyssa
Alyssa
8 years 6 months ago
Neal, a lot of people HERE die because they don’t have access to health care. Period. I think one thing we can agree on is that there IS no ideal system. It just hasn’t been invented. I’m not just comparing Sweden’s mortality rate with ours: on average, industrialized nations that have some form of universal health care have lower mortality rates than the U.S. And, no, it’s not just health care. But the fact is, many people here have to choose between food and medicine, and not a question of whether or not a person DECIDES to take care of… Read more »
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Barbara
Barbara
8 years 6 months ago
When I see food ads on TV I change the channel or I fast forward if I had it stopped. But I think they should stop food commercials, like they did smoking and drinking commercials. Although they have found a way to put both back on TV. Over eating is the only addictive problem that is treated like a character flaw. The drug is blamed for causing people to do drugs. But people are blamed for over eating. Both should have equal responsibility. Weight jokes are still the only jokes you can get away with that are a form of… Read more »
Vesna
Vesna
8 years 6 months ago

Barbara,

“Weight jokes are still the only jokes you can get away with that are a form of prejudice.”

Not so. Height, baldness, age and sex/gender all come to mind.

Migraineur
8 years 6 months ago

Barbara, Vesna – don’t forget pregnancy. Well, maybe not so much jokes, but it seems like the whole world thinks it’s OK to comment on a woman’s, even a complete stranger’s, pregnancy. And you can still make fun of someone’s race, as long as their race happens to be white (and especially if they are male). Not saying I condone it, but it’s true.

Neal W.
Neal W.
8 years 6 months ago
Alyssa, you’re still committing the post hoc ergo prompter hoc fallacy. It doesn’t matter how many countries with socialized medicine have better mortality rates than the U.S., it doesn’t mean socialized medicine is superior to U.S. health care. How many of those countries have higher overweight/obesity rates? What is the composition of the average diet? Activity levels? All these things affect mortality. Not that I’m defending the heavily socialized (but not 100% so) U.S. healthcare system. Furthermore, when you say that one of the things that made our country great was that people cared, are you referring to charity? Socialization… Read more »
Anna
8 years 6 months ago
Neal W. and Alyssa, For lots of reasons, I am critical of both forms of delivering medical care. But the current debate you are having sticks in my mind because of two glaring situations. My 80 yo somewhat frail MIL in London just suffered a broken tibia and has been the hospital all week. She has a full leg cast and is being assessed on her ability to get to the bathroom, etc. with crutches before being discharged. I understand the available support at home will also be assessed before she is discharged and sent home. It is likely some… Read more »
Neal W.
Neal W.
8 years 6 months ago
Anna, glad to hear that your mother-in-law is receiving good care. In regards to your examples of elderly being let go into taxi cabs, this occurs in the reality of non-free market health care system. The U.S. healthcare system has many aspects of government intervention, from outright socialization of some things, to subsidation, and regulation. I believe this government inervention has worsened healthcare considerably. Therefore, no examples of poor healthcare in the US can serve as evidence against my position. Furthermore, citing good healthcare for your MIL does not prove the efficacy of socialized medicine either. There are plenty of… Read more »
Anna
8 years 6 months ago

Neal W.

You are right, of course, that neither example I gave really support any argument for or against either system. I didn’t really intend it to be, but I suppose it might have sounded that way. Like I said earlier, I am also critical of both the US system and socialized medicine (probably for many of the same reasons you are), and personally wish for something entirely different (but I’ll admit I don’t always know what that “different” should be.

Alyssa
Alyssa
8 years 6 months ago

Anna, I totally agree. BOTH systems have real problems. And Neal, I personally think that the decline in our system has at least as much to do with insurance companies making decisions that used to be made by doctors as government intervention. I think we ALL agree that both systems have their problems, and that there must be a middle ground somewhere, we just need to figure out where. Somehow there has to be a way to give everyone access to health care without either bankrupting them or putting them through 70 years of government bureaucracy.

Neal W.
Neal W.
8 years 6 months ago

Alyssa & Anna,

Yes, I agree that both the U.S. healthcare system and socialized medicine have their problems.

I do think there are problems with the insurance companies, but this is due party because of government intervention. For example, the HMO act of 1973 allowed for the rapid expansion of HMO’s. If I looked deeper, I’m sure I can find all sorts of ways that the government makes insurance companies more prolific than they would of been if no intervention had ever occurred.

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7 years 3 months ago

[…] at times) debate between meat-eaters and vegetarians. Our Fast Food Indulgence post got some people up in arms about health and personal responsibility. And we got some kind words from you in our 1,000 Posts! […]

miky
miky
4 years 6 months ago

you said it girl

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