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Has fast food become worse for our health in the past 30 years?

Filled with empty calories and ultra-processed, fast food may increase the risk of obesity and cancer. While fast-food chains have ostensibly been trying to offer more healthful options, a new study finds that the health impact of their menus has not improved — to the contrary, in fact.

Share on Pinterest Fast food may now be worse for our health, a new study warns.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that, between 2020 and 2020, 36.6 percent of adults in the United States ate fast food on any given day.

Moreover, according to a study conducted by University of Connecticut researchers in 2020, around 74 percent of parents purchase unhealthful foods for their children in fast-food restaurants.

This, the investigators noted, is despite the fact that, from 2020 onward, some of the most popular fast-food chains committed to offering more healthful options in their children’s menus.

Now, a new study suggests that most fast-food restaurant menus have not, in fact, become more healthful overall, despite the addition of some arguably more wholesome choices.

The researchers analyzed the variety, portion size, and nutrition of entrées, sides, and desserts offered by 10 of the most popular fast-food chains in the U.S. over a period of roughly 3 decades, based on the menus they made available at three points in time: in 1986, 1991, and 2020.

The team analyzed menus from: Arby’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Dairy Queen, Hardee’s, Jack in the Box, KFC, Long John Silver’s, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s.

In the study paper — which appears in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics — the investigators explain their focus, noting that, “These restaurants were chosen because the nutritional information on the key nutritional variables of portion size, energy, and sodium were available for each of the 3 years being analyzed.”

“Given the popularity of fast food, our study highlights one of the changes in our food environment that is likely part of the reason for the increase in obesity and related chronic conditions over the past several decades, which are now among the main causes of death in the U.S.,” says lead investigator Megan McCrory, Ph.D.

The researchers looked at how entrées, sides, and desserts changed on these fast-food restaurants’ menus over the 30-year span.

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More specifically, they paid attention to changes in caloric content, portion size, energy density, and sodium, iron, and calcium contents.

McCrory, an associate professor at Boston University in Massachusetts, and the team accessed the relevant data through The Fast-Food Guide, which was published in 1986 and 1991, and via resources available online for the year 2020.

First, the researchers observed that the variety of foods that these restaurants offered increased at a high rate of 22.9 items, or 226 percent, per year.

However, as the variety increased, so did the caloric content of the food items on offer, as did portion size.

Thus, among entrées, sides, and desserts, calories saw a sharp increase. The largest such rise was in the dessert category, with an increase of 62 kilocalories every 10 years. Next came entrées, which saw an increase of 30 kilocalories per decade.

The team found a link between higher caloric content and larger portion sizes. These increased by 13 grams per decade for entrées and 24 grams per decade for desserts. At the same time, sodium (salt) content also went up among each food type.

“Our study offers some insights on how fast food may be helping to fuel the continuing problem of obesity and related chronic conditions,” the lead researcher concludes, adding:

“ Despite the vast number of choices offered at fast-food restaurants, some of which are healthier than others, the calories, portion sizes, and sodium content overall have worsened (increased) over time and remain high.”

McCrory and the team also note that four of the 10 fast-food chains also provided information on the calcium and iron contents of items on their menus over the past 3 decades.

The researchers acknowledge that the two essential nutrients — which play key roles in bone and blood health — are much more present in fast food now than they were 30 years ago.

Specifically, entrées and desserts now have significantly higher calcium contents, and iron is more abundant in desserts.

However, McCrory stresses that fast food should not be the first port of call for people looking to increase their calcium and iron levels, since these nutrients are available in unprocessed or minimally processed foods, such as seeds, dairy products, and fish.

“We need to find better ways to help people consume fewer calories and sodium at fast-food restaurants,” says McCrory.

“The requirement that chain restaurants display calories on their menus is a start. We would like to see more changes, such as restaurants offering smaller portions at […] proportional prices,” she adds.

Everything you need to know about pandemics

A pandemic is an outbreak of global proportions. It happens when a bacterium or novel virus becomes capable of spreading rapidly.

It causes serious illness and can spread easily from one person to the next.

The word pandemic comes from the Greek pandemos meaning “pertaining to all people.” The Greek word pan means “all” and the Greek word demos means “people.”

This article discusses the difference between epidemics and pandemics, how pandemics start, and future concerns.

Fast facts on pandemics

  • Pandemics are usually caused by a novel infectious agent, an infectious agent that is newly capable of spreading rapidly, or both.
  • The death toll in a pandemic is generally higher than that in an epidemic.
  • The Spanish flu was the worst pandemic in history, killing 100 million people.
  • Increased travel and mobility have increased the likelihood of new diseases spreading.
  • Antibiotic resistance increases the risk of future pandemics.

Share on Pinterest The death toll of a pandemic is usually much greater than that of an epidemic.

A pandemic is when a disease spreads across a wide geographical area and affects many people.

An epidemic is specific to one city, region, or country, but a pandemic spreads beyond national borders, possibly worldwide.

An endemic disease is one that is always present in a particular place or community.

An epidemic is when the number of people who experience an infection is higher than the number expected within a country or a part of a country.

If an infection becomes widespread in several countries at the same time, it can become a pandemic.

A pandemic is usually caused by a new virus strain or subtype that becomes easily transmissable between humans, or by bacteria that become resistant to antibiotic treatment. Sometimes, pandemics are caused simply by a new ability to spread rapidly, such as with the Black Death.

Humans may have little or no immunity against a new virus. Often a new virus cannot spread between people, but if it changes, or mutates, it may start to spread easily. In this case, a pandemic can result.

In the case of influenza (flu), seasonal outbreaks — or epidemics — are generally caused by subtypes of a virus that is already circulating among people.

Pandemics, on the other hand, are generally caused by novel subtypes. These subtypes have not circulated among people before.

A pandemic affects more people and can be more deadly than an epidemic. It can also lead to more social disruption, economic loss, and general hardship.

A pandemic can occur when a type of influenza virus, known as the influenza A virus, changes suddenly. This change can result in a virus that is different than any virus that already exists. This is called an antigenic shift

On the surface of the virus are HA proteins and NA proteins. If one or both of these change, a new influenza A virus subtype can result.

If this subtype gains the ability to spread between people, a pandemic can result.

After the pandemic emerges and spreads, humans develop some immunity. Then, the virus subtype can circulate among humans for several years, causing occasional flu epidemics.

Various bodies around the world, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) monitor the behavior and movements of the virus.

The Spanish flu pandemic, from 1918 to 1920, claimed 100 million lives. It is considered the worst in history. The Black Death claimed the lives of over 75 million people in the 14th Century.

Some pandemics and epidemics that have occurred include:

  • Plague of Justinian 541
  • Black Death 1346-1350
  • Cholera 1899-1923
  • Spanish flu (H1N1) 1918-1920
  • Asian flu (H2N2) 1957-1958
  • Hong Kong flu 1968-1969
  • Avian flu (H1N1) 2009

Some viruses are present in animals but rarely spread to humans. Sometimes an event can happen that makes this possible.

Health authorities are concerned when a case arises of an animal virus passing to humans, as this can be an indication that the virus is changing.

Swine flu and bird — or avian — flu, refer to viruses that were common in pigs or birds, but not in humans, until an antigenic shift occurred.

In recent years, there has also been concern about viruses that have been linked to camels (causing Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS) and monkeys (Ebola).

The WHO has a six-stage influenza program:

  • Stage 1
    No animal influenza virus circulating among animals has been reported to cause infection in humans.
  • Stage 2
    An animal influenza virus circulating in domesticated or wild animals is known to have caused infection in humans and is therefore considered a specific potential pandemic threat.
  • Stage 3
    An animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus has caused sporadic cases or small clusters of disease in people, but it has not resulted in human-to-human transmission sufficient to sustain community-level outbreaks.
  • Stage 4
    Human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus able to sustain community-level outbreaks has been verified.
  • Stage 5
    The same identified virus has caused sustained community level outbreaks in two or more countries in one WHO region.
  • Phase 6
    In addition to the criteria defined in Phase 5, the same virus has caused sustained community level outbreaks in at least one other country in another WHO region.
  • Post-peak period
    Levels of pandemic influenza in most countries with adequate surveillance have dropped below peak levels.
  • Post-pandemic period
    Levels of influenza activity have returned to the levels seen for seasonal influenza in most countries with adequate surveillance.

If an influenza pandemic were to emerge today, the following problems could arise:

  • People today are more international mobile and more likely to live in cities than in the past, factors which increase the risk of a virus spreading.
  • Faster communication increases the risk of panic, and the chance that people who may be infected will travel in an attempt to escape the disease, potentially taking the virus with them.
  • It can take months or years for a vaccine to become available, because pandemic viruses are novel agents.
  • Medical facilities would be overwhelmed, and there could be shortages of personnel to provide vital community services, due to both the demand and illness.

Medical science has advanced rapidly in recent years, but it is unlikely ever to offer full protection from a possible pandemic, because of the novel nature of the diseases involved.

The following are all potential causes of concern:

Viral hemorrhagic fevers

Viral hemorrhagic fevers, including the Ebola and Marburg viruses, could become pandemics.

However, close contact is needed for these diseases to spread.

Modern surveillance systems, lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2020 to 2020, and an experimental vaccine that is currently available for people who may be affected by the disease, offer hope that, in future, new cases will be dealt with swiftly and that the disease can be contained.

Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance is a major concern. Resistant strains of tuberculosis are among the most worrying.

Each year, almost half a million new cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) are estimated to occur globally.

SARS and MERS

SARS, caused by a coronavirus, has come close to generating a pandemic in recent years. Health agencies and government bodies prevented the disease from becoming more than localized epidemics. SARS has not been eradicated, however, and may return.

Another respiratory disease, MERS, is also a matter of concern, although the number of cases so far has been relatively small, with only 2,494 reported cases between September 2020 and November 2020, according to the WHO.

Influenza

Wild birds are a natural host for a variety of influenza strains. In rare cases, these influenza species can pass from bird to human, sparking epidemics with the potential to turn into pandemics, if left unchecked.

Avian flu (H5N1) is an example of this. The strain was first identified in Vietnam in 2004. It never reached epidemic levels, but the potential ability of the virus to combine with human flu viruses is a concern to scientists.

Ebola

The largest Ebola epidemic the world has ever seen affected Liberia and surrounding countries in West Africa in 2020 to 2020. Huge efforts to contain the problem prevented it from turning into a pandemic.

Ebola has recently resurfaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Central Africa, and the WHO is monitoring the situation.

UDHR70: 30 Articles – 30 Documents

Equality, Non-Discrimination, Right to Life, Liberty, and Security of Person

Article 1 – Right to Equality

Article 1 of the UDHR provides an explicit declaration of freedom to all human beings. The Declaration recognises the rights of all human beings, irrespective of their territorial and geographical location. One of the major accomplishments in the history of the freedoms of all peoples has been the recognition of territorial rights. According to UN sources, at the time of its foundation in 1945, 750 million people – a third of the world’s population – were under colonial rule.

The Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples was adopted by General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960. This is a landmark document that grants all peoples an inalienable right to freedom, exercising their right to sovereignty, and the integrity of their national territory. Based on the commitment of this declaration, more than 80 former colonies have gained their independence, and all eleven trust territories have achieved self-determination through independence or free association with an independent State. The Trusteeship Council successfully met its mandate and suspended its operations in 1994 after the independence of Palau, the last remaining trust territory. The Council continues to meet whenever an issue arises that needs their intervention.

UN Photo/KS, #388722

Article 2 – Freedom from Discrimination

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines racism as “a theory of races hierarchy which argues that the superior race should be preserved and should dominate the others. Racism can also be an unfair attitude towards another ethnic group [and] a violent hostility against a social group.”

For the first time, an international convention addressing racial discrimination under the auspices of the UN was concluded on 21 December 1965 by General Assembly resolution 2106 (XX).

By adopting the Convention, the General Assembly highlighted the importance of taking a significant step toward the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. The Convention asserts that “the doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and that there is no justification for racial discrimination”. This document not only laid the foundation for global action against racial discrimination but has been universally accepted and adopted in the administration of national legislation against racism. Today the implementation of the Convention is monitored by a body of independent experts, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. States parties are obliged to submit regular reports to the Committee on how rights are being upheld.

Article 3 – Right to Life, Liberty, Personal Security

Article 3 of the UDHR addresses three fundamental rights: the rights to life, liberty, and security of person. While the scope of this article had been widely applied to many conventions, it was not until 2007 that the rights of the disabled were addressed in an instrument protecting the rights of the disabled from death, security, or liberty.

In 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in resolution 61/106. In its consideration of the fundamental rights of the disabled, the Convention included all elements of Article 3 of the UDHR: Article 10 of the Convention affirms the “inherent right to life”, Article 14 the “liberty and security of person”, and Article 18 the “right to life” of disabled children. These articles invoke State Parties to ensure that persons with disabilities are treated with dignity of all rights. The implementation of this Convention has provided a means to protect persons with disabilities from human rights violations such as seclusion, lack of food, and poor health. Furthermore, it has initiated a paradigm shift in the perception of disabled people; instead of regarding them as being of a limited capacity, all barriers should be removed that prevent their full participation in all areas of life.

State Parties submit their commitment to this Convention through national frameworks and periodic progress reports to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

UN Photo/Jan Corash, #86372

Article 4 – Freedom from Slavery

The Slavery Convention was adopted under the auspices of the League of Nations and signed in Geneva on 25 September 1926. On 7 December 1953, the General Assembly, by resolution 794 (VIII), adopted the protocol to the 1926 Slavery Convention, defining slavery as “the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised”.

The progression of slavery has developed in unexpected ways which have deviated from the definition in the 1953 protocol, and which have led to additional instruments addressing modern day slavery. Amongst them are the Palermo protocols, comprising three protocols that supplement the 2000 Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. They address, amongst other issues, the trafficking of persons, including women and children, the smuggling of migrants, and illicit manufacturing and trafficking of firearms.

The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, adopted by the General Assembly in 2001, also highlights practices related to “slavery”, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court includes “enslavement” as one of the crimes against humanity. The Slavery Convention and protocol has therefore remained an important international instrument that continues to provide jurisprudence for modern anti-slavery instruments to all State Parties.

UN Photo/Rick Bajornas, #545091

Article 5 – Freedom from Torture and Degrading Treatment

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was adopted by General Assembly resolution 39/46 on 10 December 1984. The Convention provided a platform for evaluating and condemning torture, and for each State Party to commit itself to “prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction”.

Further progress was made with the adoption of the Optional Protocol in the General Assembly in 2002 (A/RES/57/199), which entered into force in 2006. The Optional Protocol established a system that enabled international and national bodies to visit detention places – a step towards evaluating and curbing torture and other degrading and cruel, inhuman treatment. Reports of these visits are submitted periodically by Special Rapporteurs to the Human Rights Council. In addition, the Committee against Torture supports State parties and national human rights institutions in oversight at the national level. The latest document emanating from the progressive development of international law pertaining to torture are the Nelson Mandela Rules, adopted in 2020 (A/RES/70/175), which address the treatment of prisoners and protection against torture.

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