Research- MochaAtrain

The Social Cost of Fast Food

Big Macs cost way more than five dollars. The fast food industry deceives its customers into thinking they only bought a burger. Instead of a burger, they bought a share in the slow attack on society. Fast food inflicts harm to the environment and its consumers in form of healthcare and pollution. Obesity rates soar as we continue to slowly kill ourselves with a constant love of Big Mac’s, Baconators, and Burger King Whoppers. Fast Food’s negative presence has yet to make a big enough splash to scare off consumers, but it has caught the attention of scientists and governments. Fast Food goes unnoticed among its consumers due to its affordability and popularity. Implementing a social cost to fast food consumer prices would not only bring attention to its relentless offenses but help pay for them too.

So how long does a Big Mac haunt its consumers? Every day the fast food industry continues to prosper off its loyal customers. In the 1950s the industry boomed and from there would become an unbeatable market force that used resources as fast as they could sell food. And today the average individual spends $1,200 at fast-food restaurants every year. With most of the world encouraging fast food, the social cost is swept under the rug. Under this rug is the accumulation of extra health care money, pollution, and the overbearing effects of obesity. The more we consume, the larger the pile becomes.

We can look at the pile through massive amounts of data on the internet. Over one-third of the population in America suffer from obesity. And America is in fourteenth place for the highest obesity rates. In congruence with our obesity rates being high are the incomes of fast food restaurants. There are 197,163 fast-food places in America. Over fifty of these establishments make hundreds of millions of dollars, some even billions. These restaurants are so popular but aren’t helping their customers in the long run.

To start things off, the expenses in potential insurance surpass that of any Big Mac. According to the research report, “A Heavy Burden,” “the overall, tangible, annual costs of being obese are $4,879 for an obese woman and $2,646 for an obese man.” These costs easily double the average amount an individual spends on fast food annually without the addition of the value of lost life. The value of lost life is the sum of income someone would have received had they been alive which is increased as obesity shaves off a person’s lifespan. And if anyone were to account that into the equation of money lost to obesity, the numbers would become more and more significant. 

Second, fast food decreases productivity. The limitations that come with obesity affect a person’s paycheck. The research done by the authors of A Heavy Burden, states the productivity between normal and obese people has caused incremental costs from $54 to $575 per obese person. They gathered evidence from different researchers that all came up with a dollar amount that results from reduced productivity. 

Finally, Fast food’s popularity harms the environment. Fast food has boosted the food consumption rate as they have increased portion sizes. And the food consumption rate has promoted the large industrialization of meat production. According to “From the Lab to the Supermarket” thirty percent of the viable earth is used by livestock systems. The author Trae Norton also states that meat production alone produces around twenty percent of total current greenhouse gas emissions. 

A food product that is in constant demand creates stress on production forming an unnatural source of pain for the environment. In the process of making meat a lot of waste is left to fester in our environment. Norton even writes, “As of 1997, animals in the U.S. industrial production system produced a grand total of approximately 1.4 billion tons of waste.”And in addition to the animal waste is the water pollution produced by the pesticides used in industrial grain farms that contributes to the decrease in water quality in rivers and streams. So all the mouthwatering goodness in a Big Mac or a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese are the residual effects that impact the environment.

Not only have land animals been affected, but fast food’s reach has extended to fish as well. The act of fish farming has domesticated fish to increase food production. Again Trae Norton announces its effects upon the environment, writing that “fish farming also has potential ecological effects that include “habitat destruction, nutrient discharge, and chemical pollution.” Wild fish species are believed to have fewer cancer-causing pollutants than farm-raised fish. The fast food industry is constantly expanding to increase business while harming the environment.

In India, they have associated fast food with negative social consequences. Since they correlate the connection between increased fast food consumption to increased weight gain and obesity, researchers have also attached the physical and emotional consequences that come with obesity. These consequences are the depletion of a children’s ability to learn, socialize, and participate in extracurriculars. According to Sarah Jain, “The impact of fast-food consumption on individuals, especially children represents nothing less than a long-term public health crisis that requires policy interventions.” In her research paper “Analyzing The Public Health Crisis in India Fueled by the Growth of the Fast-Food Industry” she describes how India has taken notice of the overbearing negative effects of fast food and is trying to induce a fat tax to battle them.

Fast food largely targets children to keep business flowing too. Their bright and colorful advertising is definitely not for the adults to enjoy, but to entice the children. These children, not knowing any better, are reeled into a habit of enjoying fast food. This habit makes sweeping all the food’s drawbacks under the rug so much easier. The paper “Trend of Fast Food Consumption and its Effect on Pakistani Society” goes even further into fast food and its strategies to target specific crowds in Pakistan. The authors go so far as to name the consequences that are under the rug by blatantly stating:

“The ill consequence of fast food and the probable hazard that it possesses by its usual eating is outrageous. Chubbiness, increase in cholesterol levels, dietary deficiencies, cardiac disorders, loss of muscle mass, depression, sexual dysfunction, asthma, strokes, type 2 diabetes, cancer (kidney / uterine / colon / breast / esophagus), liver disease, and cardiovascular diseases can all be caused by eating fast food on a regular basis.”

All the negative health concerns are what strove some countries like India, Pakistan, and the UK to demote fast food in the economy. Each country takes a different approach to attack, but the reason is constant. That they find fast food as a public health enemy. And while governments strive to protect the public’s health, scientists are working to improve the food industry with alternatives like lab-grown meat.

Fast Food has invented a new era. The introduction of fast food into our lives is discussed in the article “In Praise of Fast Food” by Rachael Laudan who asserts fast food’s convenience has improved our diets, lifestyles, and love for food, allowing more time for women to get jobs, and more. Laudan explains that fast food or processed food has put an end to the old days of women slaving away in the kitchen to make food from scratch, food perishing in the blink of an eye, miserable tasting food, and malnourishment. 

While fast food has brought a positive change to the nourishment of our country, we have become overly dependent on what is convenient. This over-dependence has pushed a healthy lifestyle past its limits, causing people to become overweight. Fast food is cheap and easy, but implementing a social cost would help deter customers and pay for their future externalities from eating too much fast food.

Getting food before and after the invention of fast food is light and day. Instead of spending hours in the kitchen, we can go get a meal served to us well below 25 minutes, maybe more. Now people can reliably go to a fast food restaurant whenever they get hungry and get as much food as they want for a low cost. We can get food through a window, we don’t even need to get out of our cars. The drive-thru has helped endorse our laziness and keep the time for getting food almost irrelevant. Some see this convenience as a blessing but I and others including Spencer Smead believe it has caused a path to obesity. Smead’s article “America’s Fast Food Obsession” explains the harm of the growing obsession with fast food. One of the main factors that contributed to Smead’s research is fast food’s convenience.

Consumers abuse the power of convenience they become slaves to it. Smead’s research led him to find out that an astounding 23% of college students eat fast food daily, and 50% still impressively eat fast food 3 times in a 5-day period. Eating fast food becomes ingrained into our daily routines and becomes a necessity that is hard to go without. Even the fact that most meals at fast food restaurants can be eaten utensil-free has become a time-saving epidemic. Smead states that in the wake of food convenience 20% of American meals are consumed in cars. Consumers are eating out so much that Lauden’s praise for fast food did not take into account the overuse of fast food.

Consumers don’t realize how easy it is to overuse fast food. Studies done by a group of researchers including Joshua Petimar have shown that the average purchase at fast food restaurants contains around an incredible 1500 calories. That’s almost the amount of calories needed in an entire day. Since that’s the case, any consumer who indulges in more than one trip to a fast food restaurant in a day would have exceeded their nutritional needs and overused fast food.

We may not know the logistics for how many calories we exceed, but our society understands that fast food isn’t healthy. In our understanding, we still decide to drive and pick up greasy, tasty, and oversized meals. Lauden’s praise for fast food doesn’t reach far enough to see the creation of fast food’s suffocating presence that forces consumers to bend to its will. We see food restaurants everywhere every day, it’s like a child seeing candy stores all day long in the backseat of a car. Even though we know the consequences of fast food, we don’t end up caring because it has regularly involved itself in the daily routines of each consumer.

The majority of the fault shouldn’t be suddenly dropped on the customer for seeking out cheap, fast options in the fast-moving world we live in. Fast food is a wealthy business, and they have the means of support and advertising that help drag customers in. One example would be government subsidies. And “An unHappy Meal: how government spending forced reliance on fast food” by Olivia Olson explains how America has the resources and such to help combat obesity but instead gives money for producing processed foods and to the franchises to provide job stability for the low-income areas.

Our government subsidizes cheap food and we gorge on oversized portions long after our nutrition needs are met. Olson also states that the majority of government subsidies go towards crops that are connected to processed foods, leaving fresh fruits and vegetables more expensive. And on the other hand, the subsidies going towards the franchises to help job stability promote obesity in low-income areas. Though the government is trying to help these areas, the increase in fast food led low-income areas to an increase in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

The fast food industry has created an ingenious business.  Obviously, the business is at no fault for harming anyone since they are just selling food. Food that tastes just as good as Lauden described compared to the time before processed food. Meals filled with sugar, fats, and calories. Some would say fast food is addicting. David Benton would agree to say that sugar and sweetness in foods create an addiction. In his journal article, “The plausibility of sugar addiction and its role in obesity and eating disorders,” Benton explains that the consumption of sugar-filled foods will induce a chain reaction that entices consumers to go back for more. His research led him to realize that individual ingredients like sugar don’t create an addiction, but that palatability plays the largest role in keeping customers interested. A common example of this would be children and candy, but little do we realize, we are the children and fast food is the candy.

Despite the many wonders, fast food has brought to society, it is a trap. Once we get hooked on the fast food trap, we hurl towards an unhealthy cycle. The food industry has thousands of restaurants surrounding society which lays the foundation for their empire. Customers will succumb to the norm of eating fast food and obesity rates will continue to rise unless fast food gets humbled. 

Fast food is cheap for customers at the drive-thru, but its costs to society are undeniable. Food crops grown for livestock pollute our air and water irreversibly with pesticides and fertilizers. Transporting meat from distant continents burns vast amounts of petroleum. And the high-calorie, low-nutrition junk foods themselves inflict obesity, diabetes, and billions of dollars in health care costs on their customers.

The fast food industry runs on increasing societal costs and pollution.  The growing of crops and the fattening of livestock pollute our air and water, the production of products and the transportation of food increase carbon emissions, and the consumption of food slowly kills us and increases health care. Each of these steps results in detrimental externalities that result in harming us both indirectly and directly, like clogging our arteries and promoting global warming. The fast food industry creates a domino effect leading to our slow demise.

Fast Food’s domino effect begins with forcing high grain yields depending on the overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Thousands of acres are tilted, prepped, fertilized, and eventually sprayed with pesticides to grow crops. The use of pesticides, while minuscule at first, becomes infused with rain runoff which contaminates the water and infects the soil that harms wildlife and plant growth. The food industry’s popularity can be to blame for the amount of livestock they need to keep their customers’ bellies full. Pesticides aren’t to blame, they protect the crops. Pesticides are the reason why major crop yields have tripled in the span of the last forty years. They do their job, but just like cars, pesticides destroy the environment.

Pesticides are just as harmful to humans as they are to our environment. According to “Pesticides, Environmental Pollution, and Health” high pesticide exposures are likely to result in prostate or lung cancer as well as an increase in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. When pesticides are sprayed, only one percent of the pesticides used actually hit their target. The rest continues to get soaked up by the environment which leads it toward us in different ways. Whether it be air or water, pesticides can manage to reach people. Rural areas especially have an increased risk of pesticide exposure to individuals. Pesticides travel through the air and harm anyone who crosses their path. 

Transporting food products to restaurants causes global warming. Global warming affects everyone by increasing wildfires, killing wildlife, increasing sea levels, intense drought, storms, and heat waves. Transportation contributes to carbon dioxide pollution and just food transportation alone amounts to about eleven percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Even the smallest emissions contributing to global warming cost governments money. The process of fixing global warming problems takes billions of dollars. Just eleven percent of a billion dollars is $110,000,000, which can be money governments could be benefitting to better means of helping society.

Fast food will cost us our lives. The ingredients and high portions of the food served are the breeding grounds for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and shortened lifespan. Obesity comes with its own set of increased risks of several debilitating, and deadly diseases. The ingredients that we suffer from the most are saturated fats, oils, and refined carbohydrates that clog our arteries and attack our hearts. Fast food restaurants use inexpensive ingredients like canola oil and trans fats that are cheaper and more dangerous to our health. Agreeing with the dangers of fast food, the journal article “The Hidden Dangers of Fast and Processed Food” states that anything cooked with oil should be considered fast food. The author Joel Fuhrman continues in this journal to attack fast foods and the numerous dangerous aspects that threaten human health. 

Not only does Fuhrman write of fast food dangers to customers but also the workers:

“One serving of French fries or fried chicken that is cooked in a fast food restaurant has 100 times the level of aldehydes designated as safe by the World Health Organization. Even the fumes are so toxic they increase the risk of cancer. People working in restaurants that fry the food, or those working in a movie theater making popcorn, have a heightened risk of lung and other cancers, even if they don’t eat any of the fried foods.”

Cheap fast food helps save money for our increasing health costs. As the risks rise in obesity so does healthcare. Fast food costs more than consumers bargained for when they are paying more for health insurance. The simple way fast food affects people’s health insurance is that when food persuades weight gain so people grow closer to obesity, and obesity shows up on healthcare’s radar.  As the gap between being non-obese and obese shrinks, the risks of contracting a chronic disease grow. When dealing with chronic diseases like diabetes, people have to spend around $9,000 more annually on medical expenditures. The higher the obesity rates become the more prevalent it becomes in healthcare services, causing healthcare costs to rise.

The most significant consequence of all is the years taken off our life. Studies show that the more obese a person becomes the more time they have taken off their lifespan. According to “A Heavy Burden” morbidly obese people have around four to five years robbed. Take the money that would be earned within those years and flush it down the toilet. Cheap food is deceiving and will return to take your wallet.

The fast food industry set new highs in obesity rates and social consequences. Pesticides promote cancer among people, meat production pollutes the environment, food transportation contributes to global warming, and the items on restaurant menus cause people to suffer the consequences of obesity. Each of these robs the government and fast food consumers. Governments spend money fixing pollution and global warming, and consumers are paying with and for their health.


Behzad, Masoud, et al., Inderscience Enterprises Ltd., 2014,

Benton, David. “The plausibility of sugar addiction and its role in obesity and eating disorders, Clinical Nutrition,” Volume 29, Issue 3, 2010, Pages 288-303, ISSN 0261-5614.

Bhattacharya, J.,  & Sood, N. “Health Insurance, Obesity, and Its Economic Cost.” The Economics of Obesity. Usda. 

Dor, A., Ferguson, C., Langwith, C., & Tan, E. (2010). A heavy burden: The individual costs of being overweight and obese in the United States. Washington, D.C.: Department of Health Policy, School of Public Health and Health Services, The George Washington University.

Fuhrman J. “The Hidden Dangers of Fast and Processed Food.” Am J Lifestyle Med. 2018 Apr 3;12(5):375-381.  


Laudan, Rachael. “In Praise of Fast Food.”, University of California Press, Feb. 2010.

Norton, T. (2021). From the Lab to the Supermarket: In Vitro Meat as a Viable Alternative to Traditional Meat Production. Journal of Food Law & Policy, 11(1).

Olson, Olivia. “An Unhappy Meal: How Government Spending Forced Reliance on Fast Food.” Bedrosian Center, USC Bedrosian Center, 18 Dec. 2018.

Özkara, A., Akyıl, D., & Konuk, M. (2016). Pesticides, Environmental Pollution, and Health. In M. L.  Larramendy, & S. Soloneski (Eds.), Environmental Health Risk – Hazardous Factors to Livin,

Petimar, Joshua, et al. “Changes in the Calorie and Nutrient Content of Purchased Fast Food Meals after Calorie Menu Labeling: A Natural Experiment.” PLOS Medicine, Public Library of Science, 12 July 2021.

Smead, Spencer. “America’s Fast Food Obsession – Global Food, Health, and Society.”, 29 Oct. 2008.

Yahya, F., Zafar, R., & Shafiq, S. (2013). “Trend of fast food consumption and its effect on Pakistani society.” Food Science and Quality Management, 11, 1-7.

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4 Responses to Research- MochaAtrain

  1. mochaatrain says:

    How well do you think the order of the three arguments works? I thought it would be good to start with the definition argument to get the reader to come to terms with what I’m talking about, then move to the rebuttal argument to get them questioning their opinions if they were opposing mine, and then finally bring it home with the casual argument. I’m not asking for a whole lot of other feedback right now because I still have to finish my rebuttal argument

    • davidbdale says:

      That sounds like a logical plan, Mocha. Two plans, actually. The Definition/Rebuttal/Causal plan is a good one. And getting some preliminary feedback while working on your Rebuttal is another. Back soon.

  2. davidbdale says:

    The range of topics covered and angles considered is quite impressive when I see the three papers pulled together, Mocha. Your introduction is strong and introduces us to most of the primary argument points. Your flow is overall strong, although you appear to drop a rebuttal into the middle and then return with more evidence for arguments you made in the first third.

    This paragraph is sloppy:

    Cheap fast food helps save money for our increasing health costs. As the risks rise in obesity so does healthcare. Fast food costs more than consumers bargained for when they are paying more for health insurance. The simple way fast food affects people’s health insurance is that when food persuades weight gain so people grow closer to obesity, and obesity shows up on healthcare’s radar. As the gap between being non-obese and obese shrinks, the risks of contracting a chronic disease grow. When dealing with chronic diseases like diabetes, people have to spend around $9,000 more annually on medical expenditures. The higher the obesity rates become the more prevalent it becomes in healthcare services, causing healthcare costs to rise.

    Already, the “big paper” is worth a higher grade than the smaller component papers. Once you improve your Rebuttal argument and import its revisions, this should be even stronger. Nice work!

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