Healthy Fast Food: A Misnomer?

Luke saw a TV commercial for Carl’s Junior and said, “Look Mom, Carl’s Junior is now offering healthy foods.” Though he didn’t ask to try out one of their menu selections, he demonstrates the incredible power in advertising to youngsters. After all, the ad convinced my perceptive (then 11-year-old) son of a fast food cynic that the home of the thickburger enables guests to “Low Carb It, Veg It, or Trim It.”

Big brands have spoken

When I was doing research on behalf of the High Five Children’s Health Collaborative, I asked a group of fifth grade students what foods they thought were healthy. Their answer was a confident: “Starbucks and Panda Express.”

Apparently, sweetfire chicken breast, eggrolls and Beijing beef are superior nutritional choices to home-grown vegetables, at least in the eyes of some kids. In a world where big brands have spoken and Heidi Klum seductively eats juicy burgers on 48″ TV screens, kids have listened.

Super size me

So has fast food gotten healthier? According the American Public Health Association, little has improved in the past two decades. Changes in sodium and calorie content have occurred over the years, but those changes have been modest and inconsistent. The biggest factor in weight gain and obesity risk, according to the study published in Preventing Chronic Disease, is the temptation of large-sized meals. Even when healthier options exist, consumers are enticed to buy and eat more.

When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, all chain restaurants with 20 or more locations nationwide were required to post calorie information on menus. However, according to Mark Huffman of Consumer Affairs, a person is more likely to notice and use those numbers if he or she is educated and makes more money. Even in the best of circumstances, a very small percentage of consumers reported using those  numbers to influence purchase decisions.

Take a bit of them apples

On the rare occasion that my little guy visits McDonald’s (with friends, of course, because I refuse to take him), do you think he orders the apple slices with a salad? No, and apparently he’s not alone. As Huffman suggests, fast food is the second-largest source of total energy in the diets of children and adolescents in the U.S.

While I can’t refute the appeal of supermodels, permanently ban my child from Taco Bell or force anyone to the order the grilled chicken at Chick fil A (especially when it tastes like rubber), I can shed light on some food facts. Heidi Klum would never look that good if she actually ate Jim Bean bourbon burgers on a regular basis, there are many wholesome ways to make tacos at home and Chick fil A’s fried assortment is sorely overrated (yes, I have indulged on trips to the South).

Everyone succumbs to temptations of “health” fast foods on occasion, just watch the serving size and work it off the next day.

Melinda Hinson