19 January 2011

Fast food fitness initiatives, a true oxymoron

When you drive by one of the innumerable McDonald’s, KFC’s, Taco Bell’s or any other establishment that peddles unhealthy food, physical fitness and disease prevention is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Even if you count yourself as one of the nameless millions who actually indulge in the greasy fare featured at these restaurants, you most likely comprehend that the food is bad for you.

So why do initiatives that target children, like KFC’s Keep Fit Challenge exist? Let’s be honest, when was the last time your family physician told you to increase your beloved little one’s fried food intake to improve his health?

Fried food has been linked to higher rates of cancer, skyrocketing instances of type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and a Jupiter sized waistline. All things being considered most doctors will advise you and your children to avoid fast food joints like the plague.

Conversely in the alternate universe of fast food restaurants, assisted by their cutesy animation filled marketing ploys, fatty—animal based— food is a vital part of every child’s activity filled day.

Here’s an excerpt from the Keep Fit Challenge website:
Getting plenty of exercise and eating right is the best way to grow up strong and healthy. KFC reminds kids to play hard, play it smart and have fun along the way! Keeping fit and keeping active can be done through all kinds of activities, games and sports like Frisbee golf, miniature golf, softball, baseball, basketball or soccer.

The Keep Fit Challenge also includes a system that allows children to accumulate Keep Fit Challenge points that can be later redeemed for prizes.

How do children earn points? Well they have to eat KFC Kid’s Laptop Meals, of course.

Using fast food logic, prior to a lively game of “Frisbee golf, basketball or soccer” junior can load up on a Double Down or a bucket of KFC’s best for optimal performance.

That really doesn’t appear to be sound advice and science agrees.

Recently the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) covered the findings of a study conducted by the International Journal of Obesity:
Food intake has a larger impact on weight loss than exercise, according to a new study in the International Journal of Obesity. A review of school-based interventions found that weight loss could be achieved by diet changes alone, while exercise without diet changes was not effective. Researchers explain it is difficult to “out-exercise” dietary intake. For example, a one-hour bicycle ride burns 240 calories and, in comparison, one small order of French fries—which are consumed in much less than an hour—contains nearly the same number of calories.

The long and the short of it, challenging your best friend to a round of miniature golf will not nullify the effects of that platter of KFC Snackers you had for dinner.

Not surprisingly, the American Cancer Society (ACS) promotes a “healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant sources.”

When the organization does mention meat, which is unfortunate, frying is definitely not the star of the show.

The ACS preparation guideline for lean meats includes “baking, broiling, or poaching rather than frying or charbroiling.”

Another health advocacy organization, the American Heart Association (AHA), steps right in line with the ACS.

The group fighting on the front lines of heart disease pushes a diet prominent in fruits, vegetables and beans while advising folks to avoid foods high in sodium and fat.

Neither the ACS nor the AHA includes fast food as a source for disease prevention. This is really not breaking news but it seems our society needs a constant reminder.

Just like a house requires a strong foundation, the human body needs proper nutrition. The highest end curtains, appliances and furniture won’t make up for a lopsided home that is slowly falling apart. Similarly playing a round or two of your favorite sport will not make up for ingesting junk. It’s simply window dressing without the proper base.

And in no way do fast food restaurants supply our children—or us—with the nutritional foundation to be healthy, vital and productive people.

That being said, it’s not as if all fast food executives are purposely out to make the world fat, unhealthy and out of shape. Regardless of intention, their establishments do significantly add to the increase in obesity rates and the accompanying diseases.

At some point we all have to take responsibility for the decay of well-being that is occurring in our country and in other developed nations.

Quite frankly, ignorance is not only a very tired excuse it is also quickly becoming a very deadly one.

Eric Fortney | @elfortney | email
Eric is the co-founder and executive editor of the animal rights and eco-friendly news source, This Dish Is Veg. In addition to his work at TDIV, Eric is a father of three, runner, and lover of the outdoors.

Photo credits:cc:flickr.com/photos/ferret111 and flickr.com/photos/whyld