Fast food also increases obesity in developing countries
As fast food has become almost synonymous with Western society, a Youtube video published in March 2020 based on the work of French journalists highlights the fact that the poorest developing countries suffer just as much, if not more, from these unhealthy foods. Obesity, diabetes and the long list of associated comorbidities are not uniquely American experiences. Fast food companies in countries like Brazil and India seem to rely on the widespread misinformation that many middle-class families and young children have about the nutritional value of fast foods, sometimes even lying about the ingredients themselves. In a constant effort to make a profit, the wheel of marketing spins faster and faster, creating a monster that has grown extremely large, as seen in the aforementioned video.
American-style shopping malls in developing countries like India and Brazil are attracting locals – even being considered “a shopping and dining paradise”. Fast food chains like Metro, KFC and Dominos Pizza rarely opened without major cover, especially Domino’s, which has become very popular in India. It’s not hard to see why in terms of cost, with a single average pizza worth 59 Indian rupees converting to 0.70 euros, or 79 cents. To make the deal even sweeter, the small pizzas cost even less at 49 rupees each.
These companies do their part to glorify the meals and drinks they offer through typical western marketing. In contrast, countries in Europe are doing all they can to market healthy foods and lifestyles and countries like France have even put laws in place to ensure that the food industry reduces the amount of sugar and fat. in their fast food. Unfortunately, the lack of such regulations in poorer countries has allowed companies to produce particularly unhealthy foods and beverages and then market them to any age or demographic group.
In Rio de Janeiro, Coca Cola settled into Brazilian stereotypes as a marketing strategy: hot Brazilian days on the beach, watching football matches, dirty streets filled with spindly young children passing a ball between themselves, and the list of cliches goes on. These images are a facade because the reality in the city is that 1 in 2 children is overweight and 1 in 7 is obese. Experts say marketing plays a major role in childhood obesity due to the lack of fast food marketing restrictions. Because big business cultivates a craving for these unhealthy foods and relies on the misinformation perpetuated by the media, children become addicted to tastes of foods and drinks that are simply not good for them. People in supermarkets fill their carts with soft drinks and crisps, admitting that if it’s not for them, it’s for their children and their families.
Even school teachers have become brand ambassadors for giants like the Coca-Cola Company, enrolling their students in sponsored group activities like dance competitions. At these events, carbonated sodas (unlike water) are more popular as a refreshment. The whole event is a massive, ill-disguised marketing gig, and the teenagers are fully aware of this: although they recognize the dominating presence of Coke’s brand, the youngsters dismiss the concern about their involvement, because why would a well-known brand like Coke ever need to create more waves of marketing?
Addressing an even younger population, the famous clown mascot of McDonald’s, Ronald McDonald, is sent to visit elementary school children. The mascot actor goes to great lengths to put on a show that’s geared towards activities that typically interest children, such as sports, and the McDonald’s logo is even covered with a piece of fabric to avoid any accusations of marketing. But although McDonald’s claims they “market responsibly”, the clown certainly speaks for itself with its instantly recognizable character, and children are then desperate for the company’s products.
In India, street food is widely available, cheap and actually healthy. In an attempt to compete with this, fast food companies like KFC offer their meals at incredibly cheap rates and sprinkle cultural inducements here and there with things like “Indian hot sauce” with their chicken. Moreover, these fast food companies are careful not to correct customer misconceptions about the nutritional value of the food they offer. This creates countless nutritional wastelands where the blind lead the blind: perhaps one of the most startling comparisons between a KFC in Kolkata and another in Europe or even the US is that water is nowhere to be found on the menu .
Now, a duality exists between Kolkata’s malnourished population and its thriving, obese middle class. Studies indicate a rapid increase in the percentage of adolescent obesity in India, with an average obese adolescent population of 30% at the time of writing. Supporting this data is the number of teenagers who come to diabetes and obesity clinics for stomach operations to help them lose weight. A doctor at one such facility blames media such as TV commercials as the main reason people give in to their urges and find it hard to recover.
It all comes down to the wheel of marketing: companies pay huge sums of money to get their products advertised in the best way – with lighting, videography and often even completely fake props all playing a role in inciting the public to buy meals. Although these products are visually disappointing in real life, customers are still queuing up to get these products. Why? Because they are tasty!
A nutritional comparison of fast food products from developed countries like France and poorer countries like India reveals that foods from developing countries generally contain significantly more salt, sugar and fat than their European counterparts. Despite the health risks these ratios suggest, the sad reality is that these nutritional overstatements make the food even tastier. But while France has managed to get the legislator in place, why are these nutritional commitments – for the exact same companies, mind you – different in different parts of the world?
Once again the tragedy of misinformation arises: people, especially mothers of young children, who have no experience or direction in reading the very nasty nutritional information about something as “healthy” as a vegetarian wrap from McDonald’s, end up perpetuating the problem. .
An unnamed ex-chef from Indian outlet Domino’s Pizza shows how companies like the pizza conglomerate trick consumers by marketing something – like a cheese-stuffed pizza – but instead offering a product with a “dupe “cheaper and less healthy; in this case, the “cheese” is actually a sauce that passes itself off as cheese quite convincingly. To further demonstrate this point, the lack of nutritional information provided by Domino’s in India would simply not pass in a wealthier developed country like France. Unfortunately, when these companies were asked to comment on these legislative shortcomings, no response was forthcoming.
Yet, while young French people seem to be enjoying a more regulated diet, their growing use of the internet introduces another set of problems: well-known brands like Oreo, M&M’s and Nutella have also moved online, with social media and video game advertising (advergames) marketing their products, effectively achieving the same effect as in India. Online advertisements and ad games are not required to display nutritional information or explicitly inform young children watching that they are being marketed. The interactive nature of these advergames captivates them quite well, so they would never know that the game is merely advertising in disguise.
Overall, experts are warning people to beware of these games, especially in obesity clinics where doctors need to ensure that this digital marketing is not exposed to their growing number of younger patients. This is made particularly important when considering the role of AI, where algorithms learn and perpetuate this problem.
Ironically, although countries like France are more developed with their nutritional legislation, misinformation is still a problem, especially among parents: these advertising games pass under the radar of even the most cautious parents, often disguised as activities “harmless” who don’t actively advertise any of their meals. But, of course, kids playing these games end up wanting that Happy Meal they’re coloring on their screen. And here’s the icing on the cake: brands aren’t allowed to do this, and many are publicly speaking out against marketing to young children. And to this day, the same companies vehemently argue that advergames are not real advertisements. The chilling reality is, however, that just because it’s written on paper doesn’t mean it’s a solid commitment.
So how can we change that? Unfortunately, when there is no public or governmental incentive to change the situation, things will not change quickly. It suits companies to be sneaky and sneaky because they achieve the same marketing goals they publicly oppose, and sometimes loopholes in legislation protect them. Until governments in developing countries create or update nutritional regulations and marketing laws, the same wheel will continue to turn.