Is McDonalds Making Us Stupid?

May 9, 2010
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It used to be that the rich were fat and the poor were thin. “Fat” was an attractive state of existence; it reflected one’s wealth and status. The poor, the vast majority of the population, grew and tended their own food, putting nearly as many calories into the process as they got out of it. The rich ate creams and spices and sauces because they could afford it. The poor ate healthy food because it was their only choice.

Today, it is not so. Since the vast majority of Americans do not grow their own food, they must purchase it. Indeed, socially-aware, wealthy Americans pay many times more for “healthy” organic food. At the same time, the corporate jungle has discovered that primarily synthetic ingredients are cheaper, therefore nearly all fast food is partly composed of synthetic materials. These ingredients are cost-effective, yet unhealthy.

More money was spent on fast food in 2009 than was spent on education in America.  Everything takes a back seat to simplicity.  Today, fewer than a third of American families cook their dinners from scratch, and while seventy-five percent of families eat at home, they are usually eating takeout or delivery.  This is an easy way to do dinner, but what is it doing to our future?

Thirty-one percent of Americans are obese, with a Body Mass Index over thirty.  Sixty-six percent are overweight, with a BMI over twenty-five.  Ingredients in even the most common fast foods are nutritionally questionable: one cup of canned soup contains half the daily recommended intake of sodium; a 20oz Starbuck’s Caramel Macchiato, a drink intended for the morning to start the day, contains 312 calories, whereas a regular cup of black coffee only has two calories, containing no unhealthy fats. Coffee is completely natural, but flavored-coffee drinks are chock-full of cheap, synthetic nutrients. The quality of food consumed by Americans is dropping like an anvil. 

According to a study by Trust for America’s Health, a non-profit, non-partisan organization committed to protecting the health of the nation, adult obesity rates are up in thirty-one states. Even more alarming, a new study has linked obesity to severe brain degeneration.  Published in the online journal Human Brain Mapping, a study by Paul Thompson, a UCLA professor of neurology, and his colleagues compared the brains and body weight of elderly individuals.  What they discovered was frightening: obese people have eight percent less brain mass than people of healthy weight.  They have lost brain tissue in the frontal and temporal lobes (which control planning and memory), the anterior cingulate gyrus (attention and executive functions), the hippocampus (long-term memory), and basal ganglia (movement).  Essentially, the obese have a brain mass deficiency equal to those of healthy individuals sixteen years older.

This adipose-induced atrophy of the human control center also affects people who are simply overweight.  These average Americans have four percent less brain mass in roughly the same areas.  This equates to a brain eight years older than it ought to be. This does not mean that an obese eight-year-old has the brain of a healthy sixteen-year-old. Rather, such children have the brain degeneration of someone twice their age. The anvil is crashing right onto our heads.

These statistics do not bode well for the acumen of our populace. Sixty-six percent of overweight Americans equals two-thirds of the population with severe brain degeneration.  More than half of all Americans are less capable of remembering, less capable of functioning properly, and more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as a result of a few extra pounds.  Only one-third of Americans think effectively, simply because their physical attributes fall in the “normal” range.  When the number of normal-weight people who merely choose not to think is added to this equation, America is left with a dwindling minority of citizens possessing any desire or capacity for dextrous thinking.

Substandard education is not creating a deficit of capable American innovators: American intelligence is trickling away into a pool of trans-fatty acids and MSG. American ingenuity and intellectual competitiveness is spinning its slow path into a vortex of lard. By feeding their children fast food, parents are undermining their children’s potential. This is a sad irony. As much as parents advocate good education as an integral part of their children’s success, their own desire for an easy life at mealtime negates any progress educational reforms might create. Likewise, schools who sell out to Pepsi for signs, or to Pizza Hut for convenient cafeteria choices, are taking the short road to ultimate failure. The minimal economic gain produced by such strategies undermines American intelligence.

Education is held hostage to food that makes students stupid, but the fast food industry is here to stay, if only because it weighs in at $120 billion dollars. Pizza Hut in schools and soda dispensers in every nook and cranny may raise extra revenue for education, but such mass-appeal culinary strategies are completely counter-productive for schools. The dichotomy of a thin rich and poor fat population can be overcome: embracing new ideas in our consumer culture is the solution. Health-food vending machines installed in my school have good economic and educational value. Healthy students propose appealing solutions that can ultimately safeguard the intellectual potential of posterity.

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