Let's make it easier to eat junk food

Obesity
Obesity Photo: Getty Images

Yep that’s what is happening in Australia. In the midst of all our talk about the obesity epidemic and debating the optimal diet, junk food home delivery is here.

If one thing is abundantly clear it is that we have a nutrition crisis in our country. Of course we’re not alone – pretty much every developed country, and many developing countries, are on the same path as us.

But let’s be absolutely honest with ourselves about the situation. We have an explosion of diabetes where 280 Australians develop the condition every single day. One in 12 of us die every minute from cardiovascular disease. One in three women, and one in two men will be diagnosed with some form of cancer before their 85th birthday, if they make it that far.

While of course many of these cases are due to factors beyond our control, simply eating and living better significantly reduces our risk. Just take type 2 diabetes; an estimated 58% of those at high risk could avoid the condition with lifestyle change, principally by eating better and moving more.

Imagine the situation in our lucky country if everyone had access to affordable fresh wholefoods, had the skills to know how to whip up quick delicious family meals at the end of the day and were inspired and motivated to do so. All kids kicked off their day with a healthy brekkie in their tummies, and went off to school or kindy with a nutrient-packed yummy lunchbox. The health of our country would soar and the rest of the world would be looking to us to see how we did it.

Sadly that dream couldn’t be further from reality. Instead of making it easier to access and afford whole foods, we are making it easier to eat junk food. McDonalds have been trialing a home delivery service in Parramatta in NSW since 2013, and has now announced the success of the trial so the company is rolling it out across many more stores around the country. Apparently the customers want it.

You can already drive through many fast food restaurants so that you needn’t waste any kilojoules getting out of your car and walking across the car park. But now you only need expend the energy it takes you to get out of your armchair to answer the door.

If you’re thinking, ‘well we don’t have to use this service’ or ‘McDonalds is fine on occasion’, I agree. If that’s the kind of food you really like, then sure. But here’s my concern – on occasion is not what is happening with most McDonalds customers. The areas with most fast food restaurants are also the areas with higher rates of obesity, lower incomes and less affordable healthy food options. The more vulnerable Australians who need help to improve their diets and lifestyles are the ones who are instead having it made easier to eat badly.

Let’s put this in the context of our kids. If you’re not convinced this food is all that bad for them, let’s look more closely at a typical Happy Meal. If you ordered 6-year-old little Johnnie a cheeseburger, small fries and a small strawberry shake that doesn’t sound excessive does it? These are meal items designed for kids after all.

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This meal supplies 3490kJ. The average 6-year-old boy needs around 6000-7000kJ a day, perhaps 8000kJ if he’s extremely active. So this McDonalds Happy Meal is providing about half of his energy requirements for the whole day in one meal.

It also contains 1109mg of sodium (salt) and the upper limit for kids of that age is 1400mg, and they only need 300-600mg. Add in the rest of the day and you can see that kids eating this sort of food are highly likely to be eating too many kilojoules and too much salt.

Let’s not fool ourselves that fast food is not that bad. It is. This type of food is energy-dense making it hard for you and your kid’s appetite control to work as it should – it’s all too easy to overeat. It’s salty, it’s low in fibre, it’s low in many nutrients, it contains very little whole plant food and therefore lacks the wealth of beneficial compounds we find in plants, and it’s high in refined starch (the burger rolls) and added sugars (the drinks). Eat too much of it and it’s a recipe for disaster.

I don’t mean to pick on one fast food restaurant as the food is just as bad and often worse in most of the others, but McDonalds are in the firing line for this particular initiative. But they are a business and making money, not improving our health, is the name of the game. Don’t let them win. Vote with your wallet and vote with your feet moving to your local supermarket or grocer. 

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