March 21, 2007 | Graham

Not fast food afterall

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know I have doubts that fast food is the major villain behind the rise in obesity. A new study says that the culprit is fruit juice. This claim should also be taken with a grain of salt (although it’s not on the DASH diet I’m following to get my blood pressure down).
The real villain has got to be too many easy calories. There’s a range of modes in which these calories are available – soft drinks, cordial, biscuits, meat, starchy vegetables, alcohol, breakfast cereals, takeaway foods etc. etc. etc. – but to blame any one mode is to miss the point. If you consume more calories than you expend, you will put on weight.
But what a pity if we picked one of the least likely sources of these calories, and unreasonably punished that? Takeaway foods are expensive and harder to get than what’s sitting in the fridge or the larder at home, and I suspect that a calculation of the total energy available through the increased consumption of fast food spread over the whole population won’t amount to nearly enough to explain the increase in fat.
It might fit some people’s prejudices, but Macdonald’s is not the problem! Neither is Berry, Golden Circle or any of the other producers of fruit juice. It’s us – we feed their products into our dietary systems.

Posted by Graham at 10:43 pm | Comments (9) |
Filed under: Health


  1. Ambit G,
    Another problem surely is the arbitrary measurement of BMI which determines, obesity and being overweight. BMI is a body shape measurement not an indicator of health. So anything based on BMI is fundamentally flawed.
    For instance the Qld government (at no small cost) has just sent around a propaganda booklet to every household and inside it’s BMI chart tells me I’m obese (or borderline overweight/obese).To be on the safe side I should say I’m obese.
    Fat bastard? A big fella yes,and I’m not as fit as I was 10 years ago, my age and love for the finer things in life has gotten rid of the washboard tummy. I do consider myself still as fit as a butcher’s dog however.
    I can speed yomp up and around the local mountain each weekend (9km in total) in 1.5 hours. And I have been keeping up with the youngsters 3x per week at a cardio/resistance circuit class, much to their skinny horror!
    Still I guess if BMI and my government have diagnosed me an unhealthy burden to the state then I must be.

    Comment by D McCarthy — March 22, 2007 @ 10:46 am

  2. “what a pity if we picked one of the least likely sources of these calories”
    Pull the other one, if you can lift its deadweight off the floor.
    McDonalds food is, like most other fast food, high in energy, high in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium (salt) and low in fibre. For example, using published US nutritional figures a quarter pounder hamburger with cheese plus a medium serve of fries accounts for 80% of recommended daily intake of saturated fat, 60% sodium but only 30% fibre. It also provides 45% of daily calory requirement (900 of a nominal 2000).
    That’s just one small meal.
    Upsize to a double quarter pounder with cheese and large fries and you get well over 100% of recommended daily saturated fat and 70% daily sodium. This provides 65% of daily calory requirement.
    Thirsty? A small (12 oz) chocolate triple thickshake is another 440 calories.
    Want a balanced meal? Add a McDonalds caesar salad (without chicken) and a serve of Newman’s Own Creamy Caesar Dressing. That’s another 30% of recommended daily intake of saturated fat and almost 30% of sodium – plus another 280 calories.
    Total: 1620 calories, too much salt, too much fat and not enough fibre.
    “Takeaway foods are expensive and harder to get than what’s sitting in the fridge or the larder at home”
    Calory for calory, takeaway foods are cheaper and easier to get that what’s at home. Visited the fast food area of a Westfield shopping centre recently?
    It is true that no one food is “the” culprit in the growing epidemic of obesity, and there is nothing nutritionally objectionable about McDonalds food – in moderation. But industrialisation of food preparation and promotion of jumbo portions as a marketing device have made food cheaper and easier to get than it has ever been in the history of the human race.
    When things become cheaper and easier to get, people consume more of them.

    Comment by MikeM — March 22, 2007 @ 5:45 pm

  3. Mike, I hear that birthday parties are even more fattening than a McDonald’s meal and contain even more saturated fat and salt – all those chips and cheerios. Maybe we should blame them for the “obesity epidemic”?
    If you look at what people eat rather than the fantasies of what they might eat, you’ll find they put the weight on primarily from what they get from home, not from out.
    But of course, it’s easier for those of us feeding our kids into a comfortable but premature grave to find someone else to blame rather than take responsibility.

    Comment by Graham Young — March 22, 2007 @ 10:30 pm

  4. Graham,
    Juice has been blamed for ages, because it is exactly the kind of product that makes it very easy to over-consume calories–a glass of juice contains the sugar equivalent of ten oranges or apples, obviously without the bulk of fibre that would stop you sitting there and eating ten apples in a row. And if thirsty, people only really need a drink of water, not the calories from ten apples.
    There’s nothing wrong with things like junk food and fruit juice in moderation; on occasion, for fun. Having said that, I’m quite militantly against soft drinks and would never buy any for Harley. Pure chemicals and sugar with no upside whatsoever.

    Comment by Gianna — March 27, 2007 @ 10:47 am

  5. Gianna, I’m not sure that a chemical analysis of fruit juice would find any signficiant differences with soft drink. Have you seen the Ribena case? This is the official ACCC press release They apparently over-stated the vitamin C content of their drinks.
    While the release says they “self-reported” in fact I understand the problem was picked up two years ago by a couple of secondary school students in New Zealand who did a simple test out of idle curiosity. is a good account of the full story.

    Comment by Graham Young — March 27, 2007 @ 12:48 pm

  6. I wouldn’t mind betting that the reason more and more Australians are consulting with bariatricians is because they fail to leave the table when they should.

    Comment by JimBob — March 27, 2007 @ 1:57 pm

  7. There is no “the villain”, as is the case in most complex situations.
    Fast food is a contributing factor. Soft drinks are another one. The trend towards ferrying children to school and home again by car is yet a third. So is the amount of homework given to children, which has steadily increased over the last 30 years and reduced the time that they can spend climbing trees. Come to think of it, with the blossoming of McMansion suburbs, there are also fewer trees.
    Anyone interested in serious investigation of this topic might read the 2003 paper by Ed Glaeser et al, “Why Have Americans Become More Obese?” at

    Comment by MikeM — March 28, 2007 @ 9:32 pm

  8. Mike, thanks for that link. I’m still reading it, but I had to share this quote “The finding that increased caloric intake is from more snacks rules out two obvious accounting
    explanations for increased obesity. The first is that obesity is a result of increased portion sizes
    in restaurants (Young and Nestle, 2002). If this theory were true, calories at main meals,particularly dinner, would have increased. Similarly, the evidence also rules out the view that
    fattening meals at fast food restaurants have made America obese.”

    Comment by Graham Young — March 28, 2007 @ 10:21 pm

  9. Yeah, I heard about Ribena – who didn’t… in fact the local Aldi has racks of the stuff on special. It does seem a clear case of misleading & deceptive conduct, since they’ve always heavily promoted the supposed ‘high vitamin C’ content. But Ribena’s more of a cordial or syrup isn’t it? Actual fruit juice, the stuff made from pulping fruit, at least bears some resemblance to something recently organic, which something like cola doesn’t.

    Comment by Gianna — April 2, 2007 @ 6:40 pm

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