The united over-weights of America: Land of the five guys and home of the bojangles

Written by James Bruce

Burgers vastly outnumber humans, and a Big-Daddy Box meal with all the trimmings and a large coke would be seen as an appetiser. It’s easy to see why obesity is such a problem in America…

After making the jump across the pond and living in Virginia (America) for five months, what became increasingly apparent was the profound difference to Britain (and anywhere else I’d ever been) in average weight. Previously, I’d only ever seen rare quadruple XL sizes on Jacamo adverts featuring Johnny Vegas and so believed it a myth, nay, legend, that such sizes could ever become the norm. However, even in the very rural area of Emory (Virginia), I found myself surrounded by a sea of obesity.

Lines of mobility scooters

The idea of people who are unable to support their own weight due to the cripplingly immense mass of fat crushing down on their knees was alien to me and was what I believed could only be seen on the occasional episode of Jeremy Kyle. The reality I faced in America was different though; a simple trip to Wallmart and you are faced with line after line of mobility scooters and electronically-powered seated shopping trolleys. Almost half of the people you see are wedged into these scooters and proceed to zoom around the aisles searching for their favourite snacks like a kind of Triple XL Mario Kart. Although, what becomes apparent is that it is not the sole fault of the people as to why obesity is such an issue.

​​Whilst adjusting to my new environment, I found myself reaching for the Cheetos and washing it down with a sugary can of Mountain Dew more often than not. I supped on cans of ‘SquEasy-Cheeze’ like fine bottles of Chardonnay and crunched on packs of uncooked Rahmen noodles like crispy croutons. I fell down the trap of gluttony like many Americans do, and it is this entrapment of calories that I want to discuss. From my experience, it is not entirely the fault of the individual. I do accept that to reach such a size takes a lot of bad dietary decisions and a complete lack of any physical exercise, but it is the underlying structure of the American food system that is the crucial issue to why so many Americans are overweight.

​​Wider America

From the offset, the complete lack of supermarkets in Virginia and wider America creates the issue of travel for the consumer. Potential shoppers have to mount a three-day expedition to reach their nearest supermarket, and with America’s significantly underwhelming options for public transport in Virginia and the wider country, it makes it difficult to locate the food you need. Once you have completed your marathon trek, you now arrive and can proceed to venture through the aisles searching for the full range of nutrition and food-fuel you need, right? Well, this is often not always the case. Although Wallmart will stock all the processed sugary and salty foods you crave, its selection of everyday foodstuffs like fruit, vegetables, and milk will not be so appetising.

For example, American milk is banned in Europe due to its dangerous chemical differences. The main problem is that American cows are injected with a growth hormone called ‘rBGH’ so that they can produce 20 per cent more milk, and this is linked to increased risks of cancer in consumers. This means that the cows get ill more easily; therefore, along with the ‘rBGH’, you are indirectly consuming the antibiotics they use to treat the cows, which makes the milk taste like a chemistry experiment. Regarding fruit and vegetables, the story is no more appetising. Due to the vast amounts of freely used pesticides, the fruit and vegetables don’t taste fresh or natural and cause people to turn their nose up to the supposedly ‘healthier’ options. Here, we are left with two problems: the healthier and more natural options are not natural and not as healthy as they should be, and the good taste is taken away because of the chemical farming methods. Thus, from what I’ve seen, Americans are straying from the lower calorie fruit and vegetable options, that taste like Heisenberg’s meth lab, in search of greater taste.


The American Fast-Food Revolution- taking back independence from fresh fruit and vegetables.

After ignoring the hydrochloric fruit and veg, buying your processed unhealthy foods instead, you decide to admit supermarket defeat. You wheel yourself out the front entrance only to reveal America’s greatest cause of obesity: Fast-Food. The main cause of America’s unhealthy lifestyle and its high percentage of the super-obese is, undoubtedly, the vast swarm of fast-food restaurants and drive-thrus that surround the general populace everywhere they go. In a country where restraining orders are not unheard of, it is a surprise that the Fast-food chains have not been reprimanded as serial offenders as they appear around every corner, on every form of media, and on billboards that dominate the landscape. There is no escape, and so the average American is harassed by the convenience and abundance of fast-food until they eventually give in.

Balanced variety of food

Crammed in their cars and wedged in their seats, American families find it much easier and tastier to order a Triple Chicken-Bacon Whopper-Deluxe with Mega-Fries and a Super-Quadruple Ultra-Chocolate Milkshake. Although during my time in America, I must admit, so did I! Why toil and lumber for hours around a supermarket for a balanced variety of food which then has to be prepared, when you can immediately be given the food you desire. From Mexican joints like Taco Bell to fried chicken outlets like Bojangles, Americans have a wide variety of immediate Kentucky-Fried cuisine constantly crammed before their faces.

Consequently, why would anyone take the hardest and least satisfying option, toiling the supermarkets every day of their life? They wouldn’t, and this is why, on average, more Americans are heavier than in Europe or any other country. They have minimal options of natural healthy foods and the fruit, vegetables, and milk that are available are just as chemically modified as the non-organic fatty foods that line the majority of the shelves. There are many miles between the hidden endangered species that is the humble supermarket, and they are outnumbered by an army of fast-food chains that infiltrate and surround every town, village, or city and bombard them into submission with adverts.

After visiting New York, Washington D.C, and staying in the humble dwelling of rural Emory, the casual acceptance of the obesity, which is instigated by the fast-food based consumer structure, is something that is impossible to ignore and nothing short of a miracle of being fixed. Although considering the pounds I have put on and my newfound enjoyment of pop-tarts and Chick-fill-a, it might not be long before I join them.