Words often take on multiple meanings over time as they become absorbed by large and widespread populations. Some words that have cut and dried definitions in one era evolve double entendre definitions with subsequent generations, eliciting giggle fits if used unwittingly. Other words seem to have the same connotation regardless of what they’re attached to. Thus, it would seem no mere coincidence that the word “junk” is both slang for heroin and unhealthy foods (among other things). Certainly, there are parallels between all manifestations of addiction. And few positive qualities are attributed to addiction-based behaviors, regardless of the habit. Where eating habits are concerned, no food has become synonymous with the word “junk” more than fast food.
Both heroin addiction and poor Western diets bring with them numerous risks. Heroin is a highly addictive narcotic that can lead to heart disease, liver and kidney failure, skin abscesses, and miosis (constriction of the pupils), among other life-threatening illnesses. An unhealthy diet, over a prolonged period of time, can lead to obesity, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, joint pain, and diabetes. While neither is conducive to healthy living, I have yet to read a news story about an epidemic of 25 year-old junk foodies succumbing to their junk food addictions. The average person can eat a steady diet of McDonald’s hamburgers, Taco Bell burritos, and KFC chicken and still live to see his or her grandchildren walk the earth.
But what about the claims that consuming fast food in high quantities represents something more sinister than a mere habit, crossing the line into the realm of addiction? Anything that offers the thrill of instant gratification has the potential to enslave its consumer, and fast food certainly gratifies the user without requiring significant effort in return. The real cost of this particular kind of indulgence comes in the form of the aforementioned diseases and conditions, and they are generally not so instant in their permutation or progression.
Josh Rankin, editor-in-chief of the website Healthy Wealthy You, writes that researchers at Scripps Research Institute fed one group of rats a healthy diet and a second group a diet consisting entirely of junk food. The study found that the rats fed the junk food diet were more prone to binge eating, leading to higher levels of obesity. Addiction tends to compromise the addict’s decision-making abilities, as well as his or her ability to be mindful in any meaningful way. If fast food has a similar effect, this leads credence to those who want its overuse classified as a form of addiction.
That results of the study led senior author Dr. Paul J. Kenny to observe, “Not only did we find that the animals’ brain reward circuits became less responsive as they continued to overeat and become obese, but that decrease in responsiveness was similar to what our laboratory has seen previously in rats as they become addicted to cocaine or heroin. The data suggest that obesity and addiction may result from common neuroadaptations.” So, fast food does seem to act as a kind of drug, with users succumbing to its intoxicating effects. Salient qualities provided by fat, salt, and sugar content create an irresistible urge in the masses to consume fast food in large quantities. And there is one other attribute that makes fast food a big sell in nearly every corner of the globe: easy access.
The relatively low cost of fast food has often been cited as a reason for the high volume of its consumption in the United States. Upon closer inspection, this reasoning seems more excuse than explanation. Food prepared at home, with bountiful servings of whole grains, fresh fruits, and raw or cooked vegetables, is less costly than comparable quantities of hamburgers, French fries, onion rings, fried chicken, pizza, tacos, burritos, and/or nachos. Even more salubrious are the nutritional benefits of a healthier diet and higher quality of life that comes with a less corpulent and more physically fit frame.
McDonald’s advertises that it has served 99 billion in seven decades. There are increasing numbers of health advocates who would like to see the addendum that its menu has sent 70 billion of those served to early graves. The number refers to orders rather than customers, but you get the idea. The bias many have against big business sometimes yields irrational and unnecessary relativism. Where food is essential to survival, cocaine, heroin, and alcohol are not. Both can do harm, but they’re not equally harmful or destructive to any reasonable degree.
The best answer to the fast food epidemic is to require restaurants to provide nutritional information, inform the public of the risks that come with an unhealthy diet, and slap a reasonable sin tax on the least healthful menu choices. From there, you’re on your own.
- Rankin, Josh. “What do Cocaine and McDonalds Have in Common?” Healthy Wealthy You. 14 September 2011. Web. 25 June 2012.
- T, Buddy. “The Health Effects of Heroin.” About.com. 30 January 2012. Web. 25 June 2012.
- Bowersox, John. “Heroin Update: Smoking, Injecting Cause Similar Effects; Usage Patterns May be Shifting.” EHD: The Endowment for Human Development. July/August 1995. Web. 25 June 2012.
- Bittman, Mark. “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?” The New York Times. 24 September 2011. Web. 26 June 2012.
“Junk Food Diet Causes Rats’ Brain Pleasure Centers To Become Progressively Less Responsive.” Science Daily. 26 October 2009. Web. 26 June 2012.
Filed under: Addiction, Conditions and Disorders, Eating disorders · Tags: Addiction, alcohol, binge eating, cocaine, fast food, food, foodies, habit, health, healthy diet, Healthy Wealthy You, Heroin, junk food, McDonalds, obesity