I have recently been doing research into the question “Is it Really Just the Poor Who Eat Fast Food?” when I came across an amazing article by Rudelt, French, and Hamack. The article came out in September in the journal “Public Health Nutrition,” which is not a magazine most people read on a daily basis so I want to point it out here.
The authors look at how much sodium (Na) is in the food sold by fast food restaurants like McDonalds, Burger King, KFC and Taco Bell. Most sodium in our food comes from table salt, which is sodium chloride. They write sodium is important because “High blood pressure is the most common risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the first and fourth leading causes of death in the USA. High-Na diets are also associated with kidney disease and osteoporosis as well as stomach cancer.”
We all know fast food has a lot of salt. Not only does the article point out how much, it shows the changes at 7 points in time from 1997 to 2009. The article shows how much sodium is in the typical (median) lunch/dinner entree. In 1997 the typical burger or chicken meal had 883 mg. By 2009 the sodium content of the typical entree had risen to 1,015 mg, which is a 15% increase. Fast food restaurants on average have been boosting the amount of salt by roughly 1% each year.
The CDC recommends that adults should have less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day and that people over 51 should limit themselves to 1,500 mg. In simple terms eating two burgers at McDonalds almost puts you at your daily limit, before you start in on the fries.
The rising levels of salt bring up an interesting economic problem. Consumers clearly like their fast food. These same consumers clearly dislike the rapid rise in medical care costs and insurance the US has been experiencing. When is it right for the government to control or mandate how much salt we eat in fast food restaurants to protect health? Should the government have no control over the rising levels of fast food salt and leave us free to make our own decisions, or should the government begin to regulate hamburgers, much like it regulates cigarettes?