Question Do people who don't care about their own health also care less about everything else?

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When writing about dangerous chemicals found in American fast food, it made me wonder why so many people eat that kind of junk food on a regular basis. I am in my 40s and I have always known since my childhood that junk food like McDonald's is bad for health. It's common knowledge in Belgium (which incidentally has one of the lowest numbers of American fast food restaurants per capita in the rich world alongside Italy). It's also common knowledge practically everywhere that fast food (and the soft drinks that typically go with it) consumption is correlated to obesity, diabetes and generally poorer health. Yet, fast food is as popular as ever. People who consume it regularly are usually poorer, but not necessarily. I think that what really distinguishes fast food addicts from the rest of the population is that they don't seem to care about their own health.

One problem with that attitude is that parents who have it tend to pass it to their children, which is why we often see obesity run in families and family of obese people sitting together at fast food chains. I suppose it's less obvious in the US where obesity is so prevalent, but in most parts of Western and Northern Europe (except notably the UK), it is a rare thing to see a family where everybody seems to be obese. In fact the only few times I saw that was people sitting in American fast food chains (which I admit to occasionally using for their toilets when travelling, even if that means buying a bottle of water to get the access code).

What I want to discuss here is whether these people who do not care about their own health and well-being are also less likely to care about most other societal or environmental issues? My reasoning is the following: How can someone who doesn't care about their own health care about the well being of other people? How could they give a damn about the environment if they are so broken inside that they can't even care about themselves and people close to them?

I will attempt to answer these questions by seeing what the scientific literature says on the subject, even if indirectly.

Do less educated people consume more fast food?

The answer is yes. Serious studies like this one (from the University of Cambridge), which analysed the correlation between fast food consumption and education, have shown that "those who were least educated consumed 26% more fast food/d than did those who were the most educated". That paper concluded that "Greater fast-food consumption, BMI, and odds of obesity were associated with greater fast-food outlet exposure and a lower educational level."

Do less educated people tend to care less about the environment?

There hasn't been a lot of studies on the topic, but those that exist confirmed this tendency.

1) ScienceDirect: Does education increase pro-environmental behavior? Evidence from Europe

Previous evidence suggests a positive correlation between education and environmental behavior.

We find strong evidence of a positive LATE of increased education on pro-environmental behavior.

Conclusion
Previous research has established that there are desirable effects of increased educational attainment, with much of the research focusing on the wage effects. However, there is relatively little research establishing how educational attainment affects behavior outside of the marketplace. We contribute to the literature by documenting one such positive effect; increased educational attainment increases the extent of pro-environmental behavior. Studies have long documented a positive association

2) Pew Research Center: A look at how people around the world view climate change

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3) UNESCO: Education and attitudes towards the environment

In this report, we will seek to gain a current and detailed understanding of the relationship between levels of education and levels of environmental concern at an international level.

Conclusion

Education levels, in the majority of instances, are linked with levels of environmental concern, even when a range of individual characteristics, likely to be associated with education levels, are controlled for.
This is especially true of comparative environmental concern and environmental action, and slightly less true of absolute environmental concern. When we control for levels of environmental knowledge, such a relationship between levels of education and environmental concern is no longer evident in aminority of countries, but still endures in the majority. This suggests that levels of education are making a contribution to levels of environmental concern that extends beyond equipping the individual with knowledge of environmental issues.


So it would appear that, in general, less educated people tend to eat more fast food, care less about their own health (and that of others, including in many cases also those of their children), and care less about the environment. We are dealing here with a class of "couldn't-give-a-damn people", people who are broken and have given up caring in general, be it about their own life or about the rest of the world.

The USA seems to have the largest percentage of its population that falls into this category. It has become such a problem that life expectancy has been decreasing for 10 years (since its peak in 2014) and the number of fatal drug overdoses has been steadily increasing for over 20 years and started skyrocketing since 2015. These are all symptoms of a society where too many people have stopped caring. They have given up on their health and increasingly also on their lives. Unfortunately this phenomenon seems to be spreading to other countries, although at a slower pace.
 
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Fast food tastes good. However, food from good restaurants tastes even better, but is way more expensive.
Therefore for people which have little money and time, fast food is the logical choice if they eat with a focus on taste.

There are people for which taste is not as important or who learned to appreciate other tastes than those typical for fast food.

Concerning the financial aspect, eating well-tasting food in a good restaurant with my family costs me 4 times as much as the typical fast food stuff.
And unfortunately younger children don't appreciate it as much. In part that's because the taste of the younger generation being "educated" by the food industry.
My oldest thinks already different, but younger children get kind of addicted to certain tastes pretty quickly.

That goes beyond what most people identify as typical fast food, it affects nearly all processed foods.
 
Fast food tastes good.

Let's agree to disagree on this one.

However, food from good restaurants tastes even better, but is way more expensive.
Therefore for people which have little money and time, fast food is the logical choice if they eat with a focus on taste.

Concerning the financial aspect, eating well-tasting food in a good restaurant with my family costs me 4 times as much as the typical fast food stuff.

It's not really the case here. I just checked the prices of pizzas at Pizza Hut in Belgium and they range from 14€ for a Margherita to 20.10€ for more fancy ones. That is slightly more expensive than the much tastier pizzas from real Italian pizzerie, which lack all the chemicals and plastics found in those of Pizza Hut.

A menu at Burger King in Belgium costs between 11.65€ and 15.10€. At McDonald's it ranges from 10.70€ to 13.85€. It is completely possible to find non-fast food restaurants in this price range, like Italian, Thai and Indian cuisine, or even a Japanese bento.

For 4x the price of fast food you can get a full lunch course at a Michelin-starred restaurant here. Normal people don't normally eat at such restaurants every day (or even every month).

A lot of junk food addicts will eat at fast food restaurants several times a week even if it is more expensive for them than to cook at home. So clearly it's not a matter of money.

You can have a decent home cooked meal for about 2 or 3€ per person, which is much cheaper than eating at a fast food restaurant. Well I suppose that 'decent' depends on the cook. 😛

And unfortunately younger children don't appreciate it as much. In part that's because the taste of the younger generation being "educated" by the food industry.

My oldest thinks already different, but younger children get kind of addicted to certain tastes pretty quickly.

That goes beyond what most people identify as typical fast food, it affects nearly all processed foods.

It's important to educate your children very early on to the dangers of junk food and make them eat proper, healthy food at home. They won't crave junk food if they are not used to eat it in the first place.
 
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Buy an air fryer or electric grill or a mix of both.

Less seed oil, less processed food. Chicken + fish (i prefer cod), vegetables, unprocessed carbohydrates and you will be fine.

From time to time, getting some fast food is ok, but when it becomes a habit it kills you.
 
It's not really the case here. I just checked the prices of pizzas at Pizza Hut in Belgium and they range from 14€ for a Margherita to 20.10€ for more fancy ones. That is slightly more expensive than the much tastier pizzas from real Italian pizzerie, which lack all the chemicals and plastics found in those of Pizza Hut.

A menu at Burger King in Belgium costs between 11.65€ and 15.10€. At McDonald's it ranges from 10.70€ to 13.85€. It is completely possible to find non-fast food restaurants in this price range, like Italian, Thai and Indian cuisine, or even a Japanese bento.

For 4x the price of fast food you can get a full lunch course at a Michelin-starred restaurant here. Normal people don't normally eat at such restaurants every day (or even every month).

A lot of junk food addicts will eat at fast food restaurants several times a week even if it is more expensive for them than to cook at home. So clearly it's not a matter of money.

You can have a decent home cooked meal for about 2 or 3€ per person, which is much cheaper than eating at a fast food restaurant. Well I suppose that 'decent' depends on the cook. 😛


It's important to educate your children very early on to the dangers of junk food and make them eat proper, healthy food at home. They won't crave junk food if they are not used to eat it in the first place.

Talking about pizza I always order pizzas from Italian restaurants instead of going to something like PIzza Hut, which is no option in my country anyway because they left it. We have such a high density of good Pizza restaurants, that something like Pizza Hut had a very bad start:

But I wouldn't say that a pizza, even a good one, or cheap Chinese food is that much better. Better yes, but still not really healthy. And the "cooking at home" issue comes from the fact that females being now part of the general workforce and there are less homemakers. When the wives were at home, they did take care of the proper meals for the families. Now its much more problematic, which is one of the main reasons behind fast food and processed foods becoming so popular and omnipresent.
 
Talking about pizza I always order pizzas from Italian restaurants instead of going to something like PIzza Hut, which is no option in my country anyway because they left it. We have such a high density of good Pizza restaurants, that something like Pizza Hut had a very bad start:

There has been plenty of real Italian pizzerie for decades in Belgium too. Italians are the largest group of foreign nationals in Belgium, even without counting all those that has been naturalised Belgian. There are at least 15 real Italian restaurants for each Pizza Hut. It's a wonder they haven't left the country like in Austria.

But I wouldn't say that a pizza, even a good one, or cheap Chinese food is that much better. Better yes, but still not really healthy.

I specifically did not mention Chinese food for this reason. Chinese is cheaper than Thai or Indian, but also less healthy.

As for the pizza, it also depends what toppings you choose. I don't eat beef or pork, so I usually go for a vegetarian or parmigiana, or I just select my toppings (artichokes, courgettes, aubergines, rucola, and maybe eggs or olives although I can add them myself at home if it's a take-away). That being said, we eat pizza less than once a month. My wife is Japanese so we eat mostly Japanese food at home.
 
Japanese is one of my favourite cuisines, but then again, self-made Japanese is different from the stuff you can usually order. Here most of the "Japanese" restaurants being run by Chinese and usually a Japanese-Chinese fusion rather.
 
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Japanese is one of my favourite cousines, but then again, self-made Japanese is different from the stuff you can usually order. Here most of the "Japanese" restaurants being run by Chinese and usually a Japanese-Chinese fusion rather.
Most Japanese restaurants in Belgium are also run by Chinese or even Korean people. There are about a dozen real Japanese restaurants around Brussels because of the relatively large community of Japanese expats (mostly working at Toyota's European HQ, but also other companies like Subaru and Komatsu). But even in real Japanese restaurants the food is very different from Japanese home cooking. For example sushi is something we eat in restaurants but never make at home.
 

What the largest review of studies on ultra-processed foods revealed​

Ultra-processed foods, such as breakfast cereals and soft drinks, have been linked to 32 harmful health effects.

TOPO
Pete Wilde, The Conversation
03/19/2024 04h30
Ultra-processed foods , such as breakfast cereals and soft drinks , have been linked to 32 harmful health effects , according to the largest review of studies on the topic to date.
Globally, it is believed that one in five deaths is due to poor diet , and the role of ultra-processed foods has drawn considerable attention in several studies in recent years.
The term "ultra-processed foods" began to be used just 15 years ago to allow researchers to investigate the effect of food processing on health.
This new review, called "umbrella", analyzed several recent studies - involving almost 10 million people -, bringing together much of the available data and providing a general picture of how ultra-processed foods affect our health .
The results link the consumption of large proportions of ultra-processed foods in the diet with negative health consequences and early death due to a range of conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and mental health problems .
Diets that contain high proportions of ultra-processed foods are undoubtedly harmful to health, and the new study supports their relationship with a wide variety of diseases. But there are still questions about the specific mechanisms by which these foods make us sick.
Researchers have proposed several mechanisms over the years. Among them, the low nutritional value, since some ultra-processed foods can be rich in fat, sugar and salt, low in fiber and deficient in essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Other mechanisms include a lack of structure and texture, which speeds up consumption, increases blood sugar levels — and is less effective at reducing appetite. Much attention has also been paid to additives and other chemical substances, whether added to food, or as contaminants in packaging or the environment.
An interesting aspect of this review is the fact that the strength of the results varies between studies — and some of the correlations are weak. This is likely due in part to the wide variety of foods contained in the ultra-processed category.
By definition, they are foods that may contain additives and chemicals — and are heavily processed using refined and reconstituted ingredients that consumers may not be familiar with.
This covers foods as diverse as ice cream, snacks, wholemeal bread, processed meats and low-fat margarines. These very different foods, containing very different ingredients and nutritional value, will probably have very different effects on our health.
Another important factor to consider is that these surveys are large population-level studies, in which thousands of people record their usual food consumption and health status. The analysis takes into account ("adjusts for") several factors, such as age, gender and lifestyle, which can skew the data.
However, the results can only show a relationship between food consumption and health. They do not provide direct evidence of the mechanisms involved. We urgently need new research to understand how and why certain foods can cause health problems.
Although some targeted studies are possible, the long-term health effects of, for example, consuming high levels of additives may be difficult and ethically questionable.
But there is an opportunity here to investigate these effects in more detail using existing data.
As more studies are published, the amount of data should certainly allow us to focus on different forms of ultra-processed foods to identify the best and worst.
Given the huge amount of data in the umbrella review, it would be interesting to extract some more precise data to help identify which foods we should avoid.
Time to delve deeper
There is a huge variety of foods contained in the ultra-processed category, with an equally diverse range of nutritional values.
Wholemeal bread is classified as ultra-processed, as are ice cream, stuffed biscuits and snacks. Therefore, it is highly likely that different ultra-processed foods have a wide variety of health effects.
Furthermore, studies in which humans are fed specific foods or ingredients in a controlled manner, as well as more detailed statistical analyzes of existing studies, should help us identify which ultra-processed foods to avoid, which are safe, and which may even be beneficial, as part of of a healthy and balanced diet.
One thing is certain: these studies should help provide guidance on how to reduce the consumption of ultra-processed foods that are clearly harmful to health.
On the other hand, we should also try to identify which aspects of these foods are most dangerous, so that food manufacturers can eliminate them from our diets, as has been achieved with harmful ingredients such as trans fats and some artificial colors.
Many people rely heavily on commercial and processed foods, and we need to ensure that these foods are safe and nutritious in the future, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable groups.
* Pete Wilde is a biosciences researcher at the Quadram Institute, in the United Kingdom, who carries out research in the areas of food and health.

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