Fast Food Suppliers Contribute to Increases in BMI and Decreases in IQ

By Sara Abrahamsson, Postdoctoral researcher at Norwegian Institute Of Public Health, Aline Bütikofer , Professor at Norwegian School of Economics (NHH), and Krzysztof Karbownik, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics at Emory University. Originally published at VoxEU.

Around the world, obesity during childhood and adolescence is on the rise. Its causes are complex and multifaceted but environmental factors are often named as a major culprit, with the increased supply of fast food garnering particular press and policy attention in recent decades. Using Norwegian registry data, this column documents that the increased supply of fast food restaurants could be responsible for as much as 35% of the increase in BMI and 27% of the decline in cognitive ability observed across cohorts born during the 1980s. Policies reducing the obesogenic environment could thus be an effective way to reverse the trends observed in recent decades.

Elevated body mass index (BMI) is one of the leading causes of preventable morbidity and mortality in Western countries. It is associated not only with severe health outcomes such as asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, or cancer (WHO 2016), but also with higher health care costs (Cawley and Meyerhofer 2012) and adverse economic outcomes such as lower wages in adulthood (Lundborg et al. 2014). Although various actions are being taken to reduce and reverse the ‘obesity epidemic’, it is predicted that by 2035 over half of the world’s population will be overweight or obese, including one in five children and adolescents. The annual economic cost of these trends is expected to reach $4.32 trillion in 2035, or almost 3% of global GDP (World Obesity Federation 2023). For reference, this is similar to the global impact of Covid-19 in 2020, the pandemic’s worst year (World Bank 2022).

Several countries have tried to take action to curb the upward trend by imposing taxes on sodas (Dubois et al. 2020), changing advertisement practices (Dubois et al. 2018), posting the caloric content of food items (Aranda et al. 2021), or outright banning fast food outlets (Brown et al. 2022) or the sale of junk food in schools (Leonard 2017). The latter set of far-reaching and controversial policies have some support in the medical community. For example, the Royal College of Pediatrics and Childhood Health in the UK advocates for banning fast food operations within 400 metres of schools (RCPCH 2018), the American Medical Association calls for eliminating junk food in hospitals (American Medical Association 2017), while the Australian Medical Association suggests banning junk food ads targeted at children (Australian Medical Association 2018). A call for policy action is further motivated by existing, albeit far from universal, evidence that easier access to fast food increases BMI (Cawley 2015). For example, Davis and Carpenter (2009) and Currie et al. (2010) demonstrate that teenagers attending a school near to a fast food restaurant have elevated BMI and other measures of excess weight. In contrast, Howard et al. (2011) and Asirvatham et al. (2019) find no such relationship. Other papers examine exposure at the place of residence, with results likewise ranging from increases in BMI (Elbel et al. 2020) to no effects (Dolton and Tafesse 2022).

Fast Food Restaurants in Norway

In a recent paper (Abrahamsson et al. 2023), we ask whether the increased supply of fast food leads to worse health and cognitive outcomes among young adult males in Norway. We focus on exposure in tightly defined places of residence during the childhood and adolescence periods. Administrative data allow us to link an individual’s location with the location and openings of fast food restaurants. Our proxy for health is BMI, while cognition is assessed using standardised IQ tests. Both are measured at the age of 18/19 for a universe of Norwegian males via mandatory conscription.

Our empirical approach exploits quasi-random variation in changes in the supply of fast food outlets. Thus, we compare the outcomes of individuals residing in narrow geographic locations in Norway where a restaurant has and has not been opened, and before versus after its establishment. Our results should be interpreted as effects of facilitating easier access to, rather than consumption of, fast food. Although not all individuals in these locations consumed fast food meals, prior literature suggests that increased supply leads to higher consumption (Moore et al. 2009). Furthermore, approximately 60% of Norwegian 15- to 24-year-olds reported eating “American fast food” at least once a month in the early 2000s (Bugge Bahr 2023).

The first (Western) fast food restaurants opened in Norway’s capital, Oslo, in the late 1970s and marked the arrival of a completely new food concept. Since then, the number of these suppliers has expanded dramatically, and by 2007 (the end of our sample), there were almost 800 of them (Figure 1, Panel A). In parallel, cohorts born during the 1980s – the first children and adolescents to grow up in an environment with a rapidly increasing supply of fast food – experienced 4% increases in BMI and 5% declines in cognitive ability (Figure, Panel B). Outcomes at the upper tail of the weight distribution escalated even more, with overweight rates rising by 30% and obesity rates rising by 75%.

Figure 1 Trends in the number of fast food restaurants, BMI, and cognitive ability

Note: Panel A presents number of fast food restaurants in Norway between 1980 and 2007. Panel B presents average BMI (left y-axis) and average cognitive ability score (right y-axis) measured at ages 18/19 for birth cohorts between 1980 and 1989.

Higher BMI and Worse Cognitive Outcomes from Fast Food Exposure

To verify the aforementioned visual time series correlations, we use a regression analysis. We find that growing up in a neighbourhood that has a fast food restaurant increases BMI and the likelihood of being overweight in young adult males. We calculate that for an average exposure in our data, which is about seven years between birth and age 18/19 when the outcomes are measured, individual BMI increases by 1.4% which is about 35% of the growth in mean BMI between the first and the last cohort considered (Figure 2). Additionally, we find increases of 1.6% and 2.9% per year of exposure to a fast food establishment when considering overweight and obesity likelihoods, respectively.

We document parallel deterioration in cognitive ability. A point estimate suggests 0.56% of a standard deviation (SD) decline per year of exposure, which, given the aforementioned average exposure in the data, could explain about 27% of the cross-cohort downswing. The IQ finding is unaffected by controlling for BMI, which suggests that it is largely orthogonal (and plausibly additive) to any negative health effects.

Across both health and cognitive outcomes, we find surprisingly little heterogeneity. The fast food effects do not appear to be mediated by individual health at birth, paternal BMI, or household socioeconomic status. We do note, however, that cognitive ability is only affected by early life exposure at ages 0-12. In this case, we further find that the effect is halved in families where the father has at least an academic high school degree.

Our findings are robust. Point estimates and statistical significance are not materially affected by the choice of econometric specifications, estimation sample, definition of treatment distance, or transformations of the dependent variable. We also document parallel trends prior to restaurant openings. These tests mitigate concerns that selection or spurious trends are driving our results.

Figure 2 Main results

Note: This figure presents average growth of BMI and decline of cognitive ability between birth cohort 1980 (first birth cohort in our data) and 1989 (last birth cohort in our data) as well as average treatment effects of exposure to fast food restaurants. Navy bars present results for BMI while orange bars present results for IQ scores. Black vertical spikes present 95% confidence intervals based on standard errors clustered at municipality of birth level.

Implications for Policy Response

We show that adverse fast food supply effects could arise even in a Nordic country with a relatively healthy population, high per capita income, high levels of education and nutritional literacy, and universal free healthcare. This is concerning given that many studies on weight reduction find small or no effects and that the penetration of unhealthy food providers keeps increasing. Our findings for the cognitive outcomes increase the stakes of a potential lack of countermeasures even more. They could also help in understanding the decline in cognitive ability in multiple countries in recent decades (Dutton et al. 2016). Finally, the relative homogeneity of our findings suggests that any interventions or campaigns should target a broad population rather than specific groups – for example, those with a history of obesity in their families (Griffith 2022). Without action, the prediction that within a decade more than 30% of the Norwegian adult male population will be obese (Lobstein et al. 2022) could indeed materialise.

References available at the original.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Henry Moon Pie

    That was shocking to me that cognitive ability is adversely affected for those who consume Big Macs before they’re teenagers.

    And this is only the bad effects on consumers of fast food. Then there is the impact of fast food production on the climate. Big Ag is never more destructive to climate, soil, habitat and water than when it’s producing for Ronald McDonald.

    Finally, there is the damage that fast food does to neighborhoods, especially poor neighborhoods. The fill the streets with blowing trash and undermine local, less unhealthy food options.

  2. John R Moffett

    Obviously, we don’t need the government banning certain foods, but maybe there should be some improved health standards for foods as a start. Then you could have something a color code that went from green for healthy to red for unhealthy foods that was on the packaging. But honestly, I am not sure how you tackle the problem of some people preferring terribly unhealthy foods over healthy ones. I haven’t eaten any real junk food in decades. It is a difficult problem, but considering the extensive negative health outcomes, something needs to be done.

    Opening many more local grocery stores and good low cost food establishments might help. Maybe government food outlets?

    1. Random

      Why not?
      Governments ban certain drugs, regulate sales of alcohol and so on.
      The revolves around ensuring that such policies work for public health instead of corporate (or other) interests, not the concept of a government banning X substance in general.

  3. Lexx

    I’ll pass one local high school on the way to the grocery store. The school serves upper middle class neighborhoods. There’s a Mickey D’s half a block north. I don’t think I’ve ever seen overweight kids walking back to school from lunch there. I’m not saying they don’t exist, just that I haven’t seen them returning from McDonalds.

    Within the last two years though I’ve driven by the high school on the west side as the school day ended and kids were piling into cars. I was stunned by how many overweight kids* I saw and there’s no fast food outlet within walking distance. That high school serves lower income working class households and to my eyes at the time, a high percentage of Hispanics.

    Norway last I looked is very white. I wonder how many are from multi-generational poverty, however that’s measured there… or have they all been eatin’ pretty healthy for a while now?

    *and I don’t mean chubby, I’m mean waddling grossly obese wearing XXX-sized clothes.

    1. digi_owl

      One think to keep in mind about Norway is that it is a geographically large nation with a small population (London alone has 2 times the population of the whole of Norway).

      And i find myself thinking about a news segment that was broadcast on Norwegian TV back around one of the US presidential elections (i swear, sometimes it feels like Norwegian journalists care more about what is happening in some flyover town in USA than in Stockholm or Copenhagen).

      It covered the morning routine of a US family, where, thanks to the commute time of the parents, the breakfast was drive through takeaways eaten in the back seat of the family car. And dinner was the same, as they barely had any time at home before bed.

      And to add to that, David Harvey once commented on his experience taking the early morning subway into New York after an overnight flight from some conference. The train was packed with working class people coming in from the suburbs, many of them half-asleep.

      Basic thing is that the US working class has been forced to live further and further on the fringes of cities thanks to house prices. This in turn leading to longer commutes and less home time for things like cooking a proper dinner.

      This while the upper class can afford the time and proximity to bike/walk to work and take yoga classes above the smoke as we saw in one recent links article here.

  4. Bill Malcolm

    Fast food franchising was the first easily discernible attack on society by corporate giants. There went the family restaurants of my youth replaced by corporate “grub”, starting in the mid-1960s. The new franchises sold “food” that was normally reserved for special occasions, like county fairs or family cookouts or birthday parties. Belch! Soda pop as a basic refreshment, chicken pieces swimming in fat, hamburgers of an artificial sort like minced/formed “steakettes’, hot dogs half made of salt, soft ice-cream, and milk shakes totally different from the real thing now oozed thickly through giant straws courtesy of artifical viscosity enhancers. No longer reserved for special family treats or outings, such glop became everyday fare for many, and decades later look at the results as noted in this article. Obesity. What a surprise, not. Hey, that pizza looks good! I’ll have a giant slice for an afternoon snack and a dose of heartburn. Ain’t life grand?

    I know that in the US you had the soda counter in drug stores prior to the rise of fast food, a phenomenon not repeated to any degree in my country next door to yours. So the US was perhaps better prepped for the corporate onslaught of bad food supply, where former mere treats became staples of the diet and earned big profits.

    In any case, the internet brought new opportunities for condensing supply of services to a central hub where profit could also be concentrated. Of course, for a hundred years, we had corporate department stores, but they tended to operate in downtown main streets. Walmart changed that by locating outside towns on cheap rental land, and thereby ruining downtown commerce from afar. Uber was the last straw for me. Brainiacs thought — why not take the world taxi trade for ourselves to some California head office, and get rid of local taxi drivers everywhere? What a scheme! The dullards of society, which unfortunatly embraces the young with no life experience or societal awareness, found smartphones and apps irresistible, and gave no thought whatsoever to the livelihoods of their neighbours. Similar concentrations of weath have taken over even agriculture.

    None of this is new to anyone who has spent any time wondering what has been happening. But the resistance to the commodification of everything, with profits sent to a mere few is of course the nihilistic end goal of capitalist free enterprise, monopolism, and any corporate go-getter with no conscience or community awareness and an MBA. “Public” utilities are generally actually private, while governments at all levels compete for new facilities that provide jobs by doling out public funds by way of incentives, land grants and tax forgiveness. What a great deal for the average citizen, huh?

    In the end there will be one singular world ruler, an obese overlord who is the CEO of every damn thing, and empty heads will say: “Now that’s capitalism the way it should be, O Lord Jabba! Sir!”

    I’m glad I’m old. I don’t have to put up with this self-defeating BS much longer. The Norwegian who wrote this article faces the same uphill battle as climate scientists have for four decades now. You can warn people that doom is approaching, but in reality nobody really gives a sh!t. Let’s eat party food every day! Pass the jalapeno chips and the bowl of dip there, pal, I’m hungry.

    1. juno mas

      This writing style is why I read the Comments! Where else but NC do you find such eloquence? Bravo!, Sir.

  5. eg

    Sugar, salt and fat are essentially drugs as currently wielded by the industrial “food” production complex.

    1. CanCyn

      Our bodies don’t need sugar but we do need fat and salt. The current obesity problem is rooted much more in consumption of high amounts of sugar and highly processed food and sedentary lifestyles than it over consumption of salt or fat.

      1. digi_owl

        Most of the body sure, but i think our brains run on sugar to a degree.

        But as raw/refined sugar is uncommon in nature, our bodies can produce the required sugar from stored fat.

        Also, we should perhaps say starch rather than sugar. As “sugar” in modern diets also include things like white flour, potatoes, etc.

        It is interesting to note that the BMI related diseases were historically considered rich old man diseases. Because those were the ones that could afford a daily diet of white bread, thanks to the labor involved in sifting the flour.

  6. CanCyn

    I have said this before here, I will never forget watching the film Woodstock a few years back and being absolutely gobsmacked by how ‘skinny’ the kids at the concert all looked. The change in our physiques since then is noticeable and obvious. The current western obesity and poor health problem may be said to have a seemingly simple cause of poor nutrition. Unfortunately, there is not a simple solution. Processed food is designed to create cravings for more. Packaging sizes are huge. Nutritious foods like meat, poultry, fish, fruit and vegetables are expensive in comparison to processed foods. In addition to the problems of food availability, distribution and costs, there are the human factors too – it takes time to prepare healthy food from scratch – for example, people holding down 3 part-time jobs just to make ends meet have little time for such activities. Yes, you can buy healthy prepared food, but it is expensive. Yes, as J R Moffat above suggests, we need more local grocery stores and perhaps even government run food stores. But people also need a living wage and free health care. Big ag subsidies need to end. Sugary non-nutritious food should be highly taxed. Schools need to provide mandatory phys ed/daily exercise opportunities. Maybe it is simple? Stop the profiteering on food, healthcare and education and perhaps our health might improve.

    1. CanCyn

      Sorry for replying to myself. I had a second though about my ‘maybe it is simple’ idea. Clearly, ending the profiteering on food, healthcare and education, while easy to say, is anything but simple to accomplish.

      1. Mildred Montana

        I wanted to include this in my comment below but decided it was best not to turn a comment into an essay.

        Of course there is no “simple” solution to the problem. Fast-food is so embedded in North American culture and has been for so long that any potential solutions will be long in the making and will require dedicated, serious, and enforced legislation/regulation from a government that actually cares. That’s a big assumption.

        I know it ain’t gonna happen anytime soon but here’s my wish list anyway:

        1. A heavy tax of fast-food, soft drinks, and all sugar-y, salty, and fatty snacks.
        2. An end to drive-thrus. The habit of sitting in one’s car while crawling through them in order to purchase bad food is such an abomination for so many reasons that governments at any level should obviously outlaw them If drive-thrus didn’t exist, the occupant(s) of said car would at least get a bit of exercise by walking the fifty yards or so to the “restaurant”.
        3. An end to all subsidies and tax-breaks for fast-food outlets and their suppliers.
        4. A program of government information encouraging healthy diets and warning of the dangers of bad ones. But not only that. It must put talk into practice and introduce into the curricula of schools courses on healthy eating and home cooking. (See my comment below)

    2. Louis Fyne

      People also need free time (this dovetails with raising after-inflation wages).

      Carry-out, microwave, or cooking a healthy dinner from scratch?

      Many households just don’t have the time-energy after a day of commuting + work to cook. (let alone the knowledge/skills of how to cook from scratch)

  7. Telee

    The pharmaceutical companies are coming to the rescue with the marketing of new drugs which suppress appetite. At a cost of $1,500 a month, these drugs are expected to generate health profits. However, with drug cessation, the weight is quickly regained. Of course many of the medical associations recommending this approach are funded by food corporation and drug manufacturers.

  8. John

    This is a whole area of unknowns. Many of us have theories, based on our own observations, but lack any way to test these theories in any rigorous way. (I can control my own diet, influence my family, but not my neighbors).

    My theory is that since the “green revolution” we have been increasing the production of foods such as wheat grown with chemicals and higher protein levels. The needs of industrial agriculture has dominated what food is available and how it is produced. The need to avoid spoilage for instance has resulted in food that has longer shelf life. This has increased the availability of refined foods, that are easy to eat / digest, and industrial processes (Injecting air to speed up bread rising but leaving glutens not digested by yeast) have made these processed foods more available. Our bodies crave these easy foods, however these foods are not the foods that our bodies evolved to eat / digest. Our bodies evolved to eat whole ancient grains, vegetables, fruits, and meats. People from northern climates ate more meats, while people from warm climates were more likely to be vegetarian. Our bodies do best on the traditional diet of our ancestors. I believe this is the cause of many of our modern health problems such as obesity, and diabetes.

    Unfortunately, I have no way to validate my theory.

  9. digi_owl

    While i can buy the BMI side, i would be wary of the IQ side.

    This because Norwegian society had more than fast food introduced back then.

    Quite a few passive entertainment options were introduced that meant it was easy to most days after school passively watching something.

    The economic structure of the school system also changed around that time, resulting in a slow rot do to lack of funding.

    1. Louis Fyne

      I think that for the IQ side, fast food is more a correlating variable, like you mentioned re. declining equality.

      and/or mothers are eating more fast food during pregnancy/breastfeeding and the lack of nutrients is a factor in lower IQ.

      Like with all most health problems, it’s a multi-variable problem—death by 995 small cuts and 5 big cuts.

  10. Eclair

    Ban high fructose corn syrup (HFCS.) Quick internet search reveals info that HFCS is banned in certain EU countries (Sweden, Austria, Lithuania) but articles may be out of date.

    The stuff has no redeeming qualities, other than a long shelf life. And, or course, one can’t make a decent pecan pie without Karo corn syrup, which contains only the regular amount of fructose. More importantly, the intense sweetness causes a dopamine rush to the brain, which results in cravings for ….. more HFCS. Like a drug, once your victims are hooked, your sales can only increase.

    Fructose needs to be converted, by one’s liver, into glucose in order to be useable as energy by cells. And any excess that the body does not immediately need for energy, gets converted directly into ….. fat.

    HFCS is in almost every processed food. Sweetened yoghurts, breakfast cereals (including most instant oatmeals,) soft drinks, cakes, bread and crackers, pancake syrup, pasta sauce, salad dressing, instant noodles, ketchup and those sweet spicy Asian sauces, dipping sauces, fruit drinks for kids, candy bars.

    Recommendations for maximum daily sugar consumption: males, 9 teaspoons; females, 5 teaspoons. One 12 ounce can of soda contains 12 teaspoons of ‘sugar,’ mainly HFCS. One cup sweetened yoghurt can contain 12 teaspoons of HFCS.

    And, quelle surprise! Our old friend, Archer Daniels-Midland, is the top producer of HFCS. A perfectly legal supplier of an addictive substance.

  11. Mildred Montana

    Fast food is popular because it’s, well, fast. It’s also convenient, readily available, and goes well with drive-thrus for auto-addicted North Americans.

    One thing it ain’t though is cheap. This is a common misperception. One can make far more nutritious meals at home for much less. I’m thinking for example of a big pot of chili or pasta sauce loaded with chopped veggies (garlic, onion, celery, peppers, etc.) and of course some ground beef for those who can’t live without it. Keeps well in the fridge or can be frozen in small containers.

    With that in mind, here’s my idea to make at least a small dent in the consumption of fast food: Starting at a young age, make cooking classes mandatory in school. Teach the kids how to prepare healthy meals and as a bonus let them have them for lunch at school or take them home to Mom or Dad along with the recipes.

    If they can get their parents into home-cooking, imagine how much fun the family will have chopping all those veggies!

    1. CanCyn

      In response to your comments here and above… you’re missing the time factor. For some people there is no excuse not to spend some time cooking healthy food but poor people holding down more than one part-time job do not have time to cook for themselves. Add child care or elder care – it is just impossible. That is why I would add living wage, sick leave, parental leave and universal healthcare to your wish list above.

      1. Mildred Montana

        Fer sure time is a factor. But to use my chili example, two hours of preparation and cooking time equals a week or two or three of meals. And (I’m a chili fan) it’s a wonderful complement to many other things. Two hours for a week or more of healthy meals. Can’t beat that. On the other hand, how many hours are the time-pressed willing to spend driving to and then sitting in a drive-thru per week? There seems to be no limit.

        There are alternatives to McFood. Chinese, Mexican, Greek, Indian, etc., all available for takeout or delivery and much better food. Unfortunately most of these restaurants do not have a drive-thru.

        Your wish list I cannot argue with. If only wishes were horses…

        1. Yves Smith

          You REALLY do not understand time poverty. I do not have 2 hours a week to do ANYTHING extra. Ten minutes is a lot of time for me. I don’t have time to do anything (read a book, see a movie) for fun.

          If you are taking care of an elderly parent, or in an on call job (Uber, a lot of retail is like that) you don’t have time in the absolute and you don’t have enough time to control the pockets of time you have. And the thing that fits in most easily is some you don’t have to do to completion to get some benefit, which is housekeeping.

          Betty-Jo went to the apartment of a nurse who was living with and caring for a severely obese diabetic man (I assume he had disability). When he would stand up to get out of bed, he would pee on the floor, to the degree the carpet was urine soaked through to the wood floor. Place full of gnats. Impossibly disgusting. And yes they did not cook.

          There are some poor people who live in squalor because they lack time to do anything other than the most basic things to get by. Cleaning and cooking are elective.

          1. JBird4049

            I think that it is not just misunderstanding poverty, but that the increase amount time for the work needed to get enough money to just survive. It is a different existence today than it was decades ago, when you often had other people to help at least at little and there was not quite the insane amount of work needed to get the money to just survive.

            Too often people are comparing their past life with today’s society. Back when homelessness was almost unknown because it affordable as was as food and transportation. Just look at how both parents in a family back in the 70s had to work to maintain the same life when only one was needed in the 60s, and today both have to work, maybe more than one job each, to only survive.

            No, the greatest loss besides social connections is the loss of time. Making that comparison to my past life with with today’s society, while my family was poor, sometimes desperately, I never saw or felt what I can see walking through San Francisco or anywhere else in the Bay Area. It is depressing. If nothing else, there were more opportunities, more ways to hold on in the 60s that no longer exist. Yet, many people can’t quite make that connection of what they lived in the past with what they see in the present.

            While it is not obvious, the missing time and the chaos that comes from overwork, and an often every changing, undependable work schedule, plus the insane commutes that makes life so damn hard for many.

            Employers often complain about the poor quality of new hires and their lack of skills, but the past three generations have been increasingly stripped of their natural talents, their education and training, their physical, mental, and emotional health and strength, their social connections, and again of time just to live, to function, to maintain their lives, and all for profit.

            And many people, most of whom have resources that a majority of Americans no longer have, can not see this. Nothing malicious. Just a blindness, which I would like to find a way around, if I can.

    2. ArcadiaMommy

      When my boys were little they had a two week summer camp that had cooking elective. They loved it! But it was at a super fancy school that had a separate room for the kids cooking class.

      At their current medium fancy high school the kitchen is inspected by the county. The kitchen is open from 7am to 1:30pm for early workouts or clubs and whoever needs something later in the day, usually for athletes. The school also self caters its events. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for a cooking class and proper cleanup. Luckily, there are amazing fine arts and science electives for some downtime.

      I have no idea if other schools offer home ec type classes anymore.

  12. Piotr Berman

    Fast food is only a facet of diets changing in unhealthy direction. Once people are used to it, they can eat even worse buying hamburger meat, oil and potatoes prepared for making fries in the supermarket. Of course, one can buy ingredients for healthy food, but even onions, carrots and tomatoes can double food cost for poor people. The cheapest baked goods and “sandwich cookies”, whole grain bread is 2-3 times more expensive. When and where I was a child, the cheapest baking good was whole grain bread: from the same amount of grain, you can make more whole grain bread than white bread.

    In Germany, the price proportions were different 20 years ago, but I lack recent comparisons. Anyway, changing incentives in agriculture (more veggies, less corn), changing distribution to provide affordable vegetables, and education how to eat affordably, tastily and healthily. Current popular advise is very much into “super foods”, so lower income people think that they cannot afford healthy food.

    Of course, if you are not into plain water, you can make sweet drinks with 1-2% of sugar instead the dilemma of 10% sugar or artificial sweeteners (I sweeten mate tea with plum butter from Slavic ethnic store, plum butter being the taste of childhood).

    1. JBird4049

      >>> Of course, if you are not into plain water, you can make sweet drinks with 1-2% of sugar instead the dilemma of 10% sugar or artificial sweeteners

      I have noticed the increasing amount of sugar in both store bought food and in recipes. It can be a bit much and this from a multi generational family of sugar addicts. I am really tempted to do a home project of comparing recipes in cookbooks from different decades. Since I want to buy some cookbooks from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s to try to recreate my Grandma’s cooking anyways, I might as well make sure my tastebuds are not lying to me.

      A whole lot more sugar and a lot less fat, but our diet seems worse than ever, and American cuisine has never been that healthy. Yes, I know that the large amount of the old Crisco (or just lard) that was used in many recipes would likely make an elephant’s heart go kablooie, and many people of my grandparents generation including my grandparents, got heart attacks and died young, but not diabetes. Not diabetic nor anywhere near as fat. Maybe the FDA should recheck its research on the evil of fats?

  13. Bee

    Maybe sugar, salt, and bad-quality fats are just the tip of the iceberg. In “Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets” Joanna Blythman describes the mostly unknown (to those of us not in the industrial food business) and hard to fathom chemicals and bizarre processes routinely used in most of the foods now available, including those that seem to be natural. And many of those substances are classified in such a way that they don’t need to be (and are not) listed in the ingredients so we don’t even know they’re in the food.

    1. Piotr Berman

      This is speculative, but disturbing. I used to eat Breyers ice cream that were minimalistic in their ingredient lists, only those that intuitively necessary, but now they have ca. 30. And even when harmless, they can be bizarre, like adding “Yellow no 2” to cucumber pickles that look perfectly fine, with rich deep green color, without coloring. But this is part of the theme I pointed, it is essential to be able to cook from ingredients and to have availability of healthy products with few ingredients.

      For example, it may be hard to find cereal without added sugar. If not sweet enough, one can add fruit, the combination is more affordable than most of the junk (I use Grape Nuts, “whole wheat flour, malted barley flour, salt, dried yeast” + 12 vitamins and minerals.

      I was thinking that USA could borrow some good solutions from India. Low income Indians do cook from ingredients, and there is a network of state stores (all-Indian or just state level?) with inexpensive staples. The state buys from farmers and the stores have small markup, so you do not to be in upper middle class to eat a lot of vegetables and fruit every day (plus ready to eat meals that I like…, this is processed but the ingredient list does not contain chemicals).

      1. JBird4049

        The American diet has always been questionable, but it did not have all Frankenfoods with their ingredients especially HFCS. Even if the portions from the past had remained the same, all the bizarre ingredients now used makes the food today much worse. If there was sugar only in what is supposed to have it, people would be losing weight.

        However, the FDA is now owed by Big Food, which means that they can put almost anything in the food so long as it is not lead or arsenic, and most of the small eateries that used to exist have been consumed by Fast Food.

        1. some guy

          I wonder if the American diet really was always questionable. Two early “foodies” ( John L. Hess and Karen Hess) wrote a book called The Taste Of America. It described a pre-industrial-revolution past in which all regions of America had their good food/ real food traditions and supplies. And it was mass urbanization and de-ruralization of numbers of people beginning somewhat before the Civil War, hugely accelerated during the Civil War, and taking off even further thereafter, which created a huge captive audience for the evolving ultraprocessed foods first introduced in the late 1800s and just made worse and worse and worse throughout the Twentieth Century and even more worser until this very moment. ( The Health Food Movement and then the Gourmet Foodie Movement were reactions against this Industrial Enshifification of the Mainstream Food Supply).

          Plus that book offered some really good food advice and knowledge, as well as knowledge about good food cookbooks from before the Industrial “Phood” Era.

          ( every one of these links is a NOmazon link)

  14. Glenn Destatte

    Maybe it’s a language thing, but BMI is an indicator or result of the problems discussed; it is not a cause.

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