Appetite for Destruction This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

September 21, 2012
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America is plagued by a growing epidemic. Nearly 60 percent of Americans are overweight, due to synthetic substances in food, like high-fructose corn syrup. When we walk through a grocery store, we are surrounded by predicaments: fresh or frozen? Packaged or canned? Twinkies or Cheetos? According to Michael Pollan in The Omnivore's Dilemma, America's “industrial food system is making us very sick.” As a direct result, four out of the 10 leading causes of death in America involve our diet. The American tradition of eating unhealthy foods (including high-fructose corn syrup and fast food) creates a harmful lifestyle that disproportionately impacts the poor.

In many products we eat, real sugar has been replaced by high-fructose corn syrup, paving a path for Americans to gain weight effortlessly. In the 1920s, our country strove to supply food at the lowest possible price. This revolutionized the way we have produced and consumed food. As a result, companies found a cheaper method to sweeten food. Instead of using sugar cane, they discovered that corn made a super-sweet and super-cheap substitute, thus creating high-fructose corn syrup.

This new sugar is the basis of the obesity epidemic in America. After testing the effects of high-fructose corn syrup on lab rats, Princeton University linked its consumption with obesity. The study also found that high-fructose corn syrup is more fattening than simply overeating. Most Americans are clueless about the effects of this dangerous sweetener that has infested their food. The invention of high-fructose corn syrup created a “cheaper” way for food companies to operate, but it's costing the lives of the American people.

Like high-fructose corn syrup, fast food is not only notoriously unhealthy but also conveniently cheap, thus jeopardizing millions of Americans' quality of life. When I walk into a McDonald's, I hear the sizzling of cooking oil and see employees hastily filling customers' orders of 16-ounce sodas and Big Macs. Companies have grown greedier than ever, producing food with the most inexpensive ingredients – even if they're the most harmful.

One would not think that the less money a person has, the fatter they would be. Yet, socioeconomic status has a huge effect on the probability of developing obesity. Why does obesity increase as social class lowers? Those with less money are forced to buy cheaper food with more artificial ingredients. This increases the likelihood for these less fortunate families to become obese.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published that women's risk of obesity climbs as income decreases. In addition, at all levels of obesity, ­income, gender, and education have increased. From any perspective that it is studied, America's obesity problem has proved to be more complex than just the food we eat.

Many Americans have unhealthy eating habits, which creates an endless cycle of harmful traditions. These influences have reinforced my bad food habits. As I check the clock, my mouth waters for something savory. I crave microwavable popcorn. I run downstairs, imagining the crackling of corn and the aroma of artificial butter and lard. I feel a twinge of excitement as I murderously press the “popcorn express” button. This happens every night. I sometimes feel guilty about eating five servings of ice cream or getting a second helping of pizza. But every American does it.

Unlike the French, who have a tradition of healthy eating, Americans skip breakfast and eat oversized portions. Instead of a glass of wine (which can actually have health benefits), Americans guzzle six-packs of beer or gulp 64-ounce sodas that are high in calories. These habits are the main cause of obesity. If Americans had more nutritious eating traditions, we wouldn't have such a problem with obesity.

We must overcome this public health crisis by initiating changes in America's food system. We can empower families by creating incentives for making healthy food choices. Schools can help start kids off right by educating them about the importance of healthy living. Politicians and elected officials could impose more regulation on the food industry. With all of these efforts, we need to start at the grassroots. We must take a stand for our own health.

But how can we ignore the fact that processed food is cheaper? If we passed laws against it, people below the poverty line could starve. Despite this, our society's precious health is at risk and we must take action. The Mayo Clinic says that people who are struggling with obesity have a lower quality of life. Obese people tend to avoid public places, develop depression, face social isolation, and have trouble participating in family activities. The money we would save on health care for the obese could be put toward dietary education and food aid for lower-income families. Think of eating healthy food as an investment – in our country and our bodies.

We must bring an end to the dark path of obesity America is headed down. Our children are at risk for obesity and a reduced life expectancy. We must all take action to help guide America off this path. It's up to us to be the change. So next time you're faced with the dilemma of Twinkies or Cheetos, choose an apple instead. Remember, you are what you eat.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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jorgerodriguez69 said...
Oct. 8, 2012 at 7:36 pm
Me gusta mucho!
amandalewe This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 12, 2013 at 10:29 pm
Thank you so much, I worked really hard on this essay!
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