In a recent study, over 30 percent of Americans report that they eat fast food at least once a week. It’s hard to not know that the country is facing an obesity epidemic and yet we can’t seem to resist the draw of the fast food offerings. We even know that what masquerades as food only looks like food. It doesn’t act like food, in that it doesn’t rot the same way normal food does, and it doesn’t nourish the human body either.
All fast food does is fill that empty feeling we experience as hunger. But why do we keep going back even when we know better?
1. Convenience. This is the most common reason people say they eat fast food. They’re busy. In a hurry. The kids need to eat before practice. As a result we place convenience over health. Yes, we spent money on cheap food that is high in fat, sugar, and sodium because they look and taste good and are available on nearly every corner in American cities. We’re being tricked into increasing the frenetic pace of our life. The very phrase “fast food” does little to help us eat slowly, mindfully, enjoying the experience and stopping when we’re full. Instant gratification comes at a high cost.
2. It Smells Good. Oh yes. Fast food companies know exactly how irresistible certain aromas are and they know exactly how to market to the greatest advantage. When you walk into the mall, notice the location of the Cinnabon vendor. It’s not hidden around some corner in the back. No, it’s right there, front and center, and the ovens are near the front of the stores to attract customers. They have been known to bake just the cinnamon to keep the smell fresh. Other companies like Panera Bread Company and McDonald’s make sure they emit fresh baked or fresh fried food at peak meal hours. When people are hungry, they respond to the aromas. This is no accident.
3. Any Color As Long As It’s Red. All fast food logos are unique and easy to distinguish. But when logos of some of the most popular fast food restaurants were placed side by side, they all had the color red in them. Hot colors like red, orange, and yellow activate our appetite and grab attention.
4. Out of Sight. Right, everywhere you look there’s a burger billboard or a cute vignette of cows suggesting that you eat more chicken. Once the human brain sees an image of food, it triggers sensations of hunger. It is no coincidence that outdoor ads are the second-most purchased advertising. Only television tops it.
5. Kids Are Tomorrow’s Leaders. And if they learn from a young age to enjoy certain foods, they’re sure to continue to eat the same foods as adults. The Yale Rudd Center produced a report that determined that children were exposed to an average of 13 food ads every day in 2013. During the same period, their exposure to healthy food advertisements declined. We’re already facing an obesity epidemic and allowing this kind of marketing to tomorrow’s leaders all but guarantees that they will be fighting a bigger battle of the bulge than previous generations.