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Be Careful, Fast Food Chains Try to Outsmart Health Regulations

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Healthy eating is becoming increasingly popular in many cultures and health authorities are trying to raise awareness in the middle of modern day obesity pandemic. However, it looks like fast food companies are starting to adopt smarter marketing strategies in order to ensure their steady growth.

The trend of eating wholesome, fresh and organic food versus processed and fast food is getting bigger on a global level. While New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared a war on soda, the World Health Organization accused food companies on Tuesday of failing to meet the regulations for advertising unhealthy products to children. In Dubai, the local TV channels and cinemas make no difference between the age groups of the audience and run prolonged ads for as long as possible. However, authorities in Britain introduced strict rules on fast food marketing on Children’s TV programmes, but not on other shows, reality shows in particular, which are in fact widely watched by kids. Furthermore, food companies, according to WHO, continue to target children through mobile phones, computer games and social networks. Some European countries such as Denmark, Norway, Slovenia, France, Spain and Sweden introduced a complete restriction for marketing to children. The majority however, have only partial rules for that.

The issue is even more serious in the rest of the world, where food companies are left to do as they please. Despite the increasing debate around the harmful effects of fast food and its responsibility for the widespread obesity, fast food chains seem to make the same profits as they always did. One of the reasons for this is the latest trend in their advertising – fast food should look more “natural”. Why? Consumers now prefer all-natural, home-cooked food, or at least one that looks like home-made. So, companies such as  McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and London Fish & Chips make their meals appear imperfect and more authentic so they could more easily trick people into buying. Kraft’s turkey slice, for instance doesn’t look like it has been cut with a machine, but like someone has been cutting it with a knife, leaving more ragged edges. Then the edges of the meat are darkened with caramel colouring so you would think it was just sliced from the Thanksgiving toast. Of course, this is still the same food, coming out of the factory conveyor and stuffed with artificial colourings, additives and so on.

Another fast food chains marketing strategy that proved successful: the popular believe that there is such thing as healthy fast food. Maybe the most popular food chain worldwide that claims to offer healthy meals is Subway. But a new study showed that there is no difference between McDonald’s and Subway. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) found that meals in the two chains have roughly the same amount of calories, sugars, sodium and carbohydrates. The average Subway has 955 calories, while the McDonald’s meal has 1,038. Despite the unsubstantial difference, everyone consider McDonald’s a place for high-calorie and unhealthy foods and Subway has been able to market itself as the healthy fast food alternative.

It seems regulations and health awareness won’t be enough to limit the global expansion of fast food chains. And while some governments are trying to fight with companies’ interests, obesity, diabetes and other illnesses are spreading with increasing rates among children and young people across the globe.

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