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“How can I get the most while doing the absolute least?” This is the first thought that people are concerned with these days. Convenience is not a new concept, although over the past few decades it has become more of a necessity than a luxury. When I say convenience, I am simply referring to the “easy way out.” While growing up, I was accustomed to a home-cooked meal nearly every day. It was a big treat to get fast food.

As I grew up and moved away from home, I began to notice the loyalty many American families have to fast food chains. I say loyalty to merely describe what is, in reality, an addiction. Choosing to live a “fast-food” lifestyle has numerous consequences including, but not limited to: creating bad habits during adolescent years, consuming far more calories than are necessary, adoption of unhealthy behaviors and personal economic impact. Many of these consequences remain unknown to the public.

Here comes the truth.

In my college career, I came to understand why fast food is the common choice amongst students; it is fast, convenient and saves money. The problem with this sort of lifestyle is that it tends to carry over into the student’s adult life. What happened to courses offered in “home education”? Requiring students to learn how to cook in a healthy manner might decrease their reliance on fast food.

I believe this problem starts at home for some students. Most children have two working parents; almost every night, one of the parents brings home fast food for dinner. I do understand that these parents have bills to pay, but they are not only providing sub-par nutrition, but also are not teaching their kids how to cook for themselves. I believe these kids need to be educated on how to prepare protein and choose sufficient fruits and vegetables to provide them a healthy diet.

Everybody seems to be obsessed with the nutritional value of food these days. The problem is that not many people have the education on how to evaluate the food they eat. There is much more to the food we eat than how many calories it contains. Fat content, sodium content and sugar content all contribute to the health of a person. The new menus offered by fast-food chains claim to be “healthy” and “nutritious,” selling themselves on fewer calories. Further examination of the nutritional value of these products contradicts their marketing attempts.

In 2005, it was determined that the average American consumes 159 fast-food meals per year.  This accounts for 43 percent of the year that average Americans choose convenience over nutritional value. I once listened to a song and one lyric has really stuck with me: “I’ll sit at a drive-thru, I’ll sit there behind 15 other cars instead of getting up and making an eight-foot walk to the totally empty counter.” That lyric states what most Americans encounter 43 percent of the year. Choosing to eat fast food is such a convenient decision we make, one that carries drastic consequences that will go unnoticed for years.

Another reason we tend to choose fast food over a home-cooked nutritious meal is the cost. It is true that some food is cheaper to prepare yourself, but it’s nearly impossible to pass up a crunchy taco for 39 cents. Let’s face it: vitamin-packed fruits and vegetables are expensive and not as tempting compared to a quarter-pound hamburger with grilled onions and loads of sauce. Add in the fact that there is no preparation beforehand and no clean-up afterward makes the decision a seeming “no-brainer.” This worries me and should worry everyone as well. It shouldn’t matter if we have to pay a few extra dollars for healthier food. The amount of money saved in future medical bills should alone convince everyone to invest in healthier foods.

The worst part about some of the healthier items offered at many fast-food chains is that these items cost about twice that of an unhealthy alternative. So you decide to get fast food to save time and you want something healthy, say a salad, you can expect to pay upwards of five dollars for some lettuce and dressing. The correlation quickly becomes apparent between the price and the amount of calories: the fewer the calories, the more expensive the item.

So there it is. The name “fast food” should really be changed to “slow death.” Maybe then people will actually think about what they’re doing to themselves. It may be slow, but convenience really can be life threatening.

Tyler Kisling is a fourth-year public health major. He can be reached at tkisling@uci.edu.

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