As a personal trainer/fitness and lifestyle consultant, I have always been incredibly interested in the eating and dietary habits of society, as well as the implications that these habits have on our health and wellbeing. One of the biggest dietary changes that my generation experienced was the rise of fast food. Since the UK’s first McDonalds opened in 1974, fast food restaurants have become a permanent presence on the UK’s high streets. McDonald’s now has around 35,000 franchises in the UK alone, and several other chains, including Burger King, KFC and many more, are now ubiquitous throughout the country. It is no secret that the rising prevalence of fast food has been a huge contributor to the massive decline of dietary health in the UK. Over the past twenty five years, adult obesity rates in the UK have almost quadrupled and the rise of fast food is certainly one of the key factors behind this shocking rise.
However, recent figures suggest that the tide may be turning in our love affair with fast foods. The past few years have seen falling sales for some of the country’s leading fast food chains, with McDonald’s in particular experiencing a worldwide sales drop of 3.3%, with their European sales falling by 4%.
I am hopeful that a large part of this sales plunge is because, as a society, we are beginning to change our attitudes to the food that we consume and becoming more conscious of what we eat. What particularly interests me is that, while the traditional stalwarts of the fast food world have seen their sales decline, chains offering customers healthier alternatives have experienced an enormous rise in popularity. Subway, which has grown to become the largest fast food chain in the UK and surpasses McDonalds in their total number of franchises, owes much of its success to a marketing campaign that has emphasised that their sandwiches are made from freshly baked bread and fresh ingredients. Many other newly popular restaurants such as Nandos, Chipotle Mexican Grill, have also seen huge boosts in popularity by providing customers with menus that present a healthier or more organic option, in contrast to the traditional deep fried fast food options.
Even McDonald’s has followed suit. In recent years, they have attempted to recreate their image, which became severely battered after the 2003 release of documentary Super Size Me and Jamie Oliver’s healthy food campaign. They did so by offering more fruit, vegetables and juices in their menu. They have also taken to highlighting the fact their burgers are comprised of “100% British Beef” and even changed the preparation process for their chicken nuggets, in order to try and stave off its unhealthy image.
Although many of the developments discussed above are encouraging, it is difficult not to remain slightly pessimistic when considering our eating habits in this country. Although, the market share of the unhealthiest chains is falling, the fact remains that we still consume far too much fast food in the UK. Additionally, the menus of many of the popular new fast food chains are not as healthy as they claim to be. Many of Subway’s sandwiches, for example, contain alarming amounts of salt. The fact that the healthier chains also tend to have pricier menus is also a cause for concern. Much of the obesity epidemic in this country is concentrated in our poorest areas and regions and in an age where Newham, one of London’s most deprived boroughs, has forty two chicken shops to every secondary school, it is clear that more needs to be done to truly solve our nation’s unfortunate affliction with fast food.
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