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Fast Food – Our Habit of Convenience

Habits we acquire happen over a period of time. They typically begin with a cue and a perceived positive reinforcement of a reward.

Maybe we bypass going to the fitness center or take a bike ride because it is more pleasant to sit on the couch and watch Netflix. It’s just too convenient to press the TV remote (cue) and then become engrossed in countless shows that are entertaining, educational – or both (reward). Doing this too often may develop into a new habit that could detract from a previous habit (e.g. gym or bike). We exchange one habit (exercising) for another, less-healthy habit (TV binge-watching).

According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, 36.6 percent of Americans eat some kind of fast food* each day, with men being a bit less discerning about what they eat (37.9 percent) than women (35.4 percent). When you think about it, fast food is always accessible throughout the day, making it just too convenient for many of us to pass up.

On a typical day, almost 23 percent of Americans will eat breakfast from a fast-food outlet, while about 44 percent of us will pick up a ‘quick’ meal during lunch. Not to be left out, fast-food dinners draw another 42 percent of Americans.

Ethnic group and age also provide differences when it comes to the daily consumption of fast food.

Ethnic Groups:

  • Black Americans – 42.4 percent
  • Whites – 37.8 percent
  • Latinos – 36.5 percent
  • Asian-Americans – 30.6 percent

Age Categories:

  • 20–39 years-old – 45 percent
  • 40-59 years-old – 38 percent
  • 60+ – 24 percent

Take-A-Way from This Report?

The conventional wisdom about fast food is that people eat it when they can’t afford something better (and healthier). However, this report suggests this wisdom is not necessarily true. For example:

  • Higher income equates to more fast food: The more money we have or make, the more likely we are to eat fast food on any given day. For example, about 32 percent of people who earn less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level eat fast food daily. However, over 36 percent of middle-income families (earn between 130 – 350 percent) purchase fast food daily, while 42 percent of people with incomes above 350 percent consume fast food daily.

This finding is interesting because healthier food can cost a bit more than fast food, and yet, regardless of having the ability to pay for more expensive, healthier food, we often elect the more convenient food that is available at our finger tips (often using the drive through). Additionally, with our younger population consuming more fast food compared to older generations, younger families (and their children) will be more likely to establish unhealthy eating habits – creating health issues later in life (obesity, heart disease, dementia, etc.). The intake of calories, fat, and sodium eventually adversely affects our health in many different ways.

Iowa Youth Obesity Rate is High

Another report recently released by The National Survey of Children’s Health compares the obesity rates of children (ages 10 to 17) for all 50 states. Almost 18 percent of our youth in Iowa are obese, ranking our state as the 10th highest state for youth obesity. Iowa’s white (non-Hispanic) youth are significantly higher than the national rate.

The implications of having overweight and/or obese youth present future challenges to our state. For one, employers desire to have healthy and productive employees in their workplaces, and having unhealthy employees will continue to leverage up their health insurance costs due to higher healthcare usage. No one wants a poor quality of life, but often this is a result of the choices and habits that have been established much earlier in our lives.

Per a recent Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health report, we are still trying to come to terms with the dietary fat we consume – fat that is good and fat that is bad.

This much we know. Establishing a habit based on mere convenience may not be the smart choice we should make for ourselves, individually – or as a society.

Now, where did I put my channel changer…

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*NOTE: For this survey, fast food was broadly defined as any item obtained from a “fast food/pizza” establishment. It is possible that some people may interpret fast food differently from one another – e.g. takeout sushi, etc.

Talking ‘Turkey’ on Thanksgiving
A Health Coverage Diversion

Talking Turkey on ThanksgivingRacial, gender, social and political harmony has been sorely lacking in our country, and the ‘perfect storm’ to potentially divide families on this particular Thanksgiving was both real and ominous.

This particular Thanksgiving, many American families were understandably apprehensive to discuss anything remotely political at the dinner table. Because of this, three NFL football games suddenly became unusually more interesting, perhaps because the game or teams served as a common thread to unify rather than divide. Upcoming Netflix shows also morphed into a topic for others to share – shows to watch, avoid or to anticipate an impending release.

Diversions can be a great thing, when needed!

Almost immediately after arriving at our family Thanksgiving gathering, I was approached by my 23-year-old niece, who had taken a job shortly after graduation – a fact worth celebrating! She was leaving her parents’ health coverage and was trying to navigate through her new health benefits. Her question was simple, lacking any political or social overtones, and yet quite revealing to this baby boomer:

“Uncle David, would you have time to visit with me this weekend to discuss my benefit options available through my employer? The health insurance, in particular, is complicated stuff!”

I quickly gave my niece a hug, partly to assure her that I would be happy to assist her, but just as importantly, it was a natural ‘diversion’ that we both could safely partake!

Educating a new generation of Americans about health insurance ‘stuff,’ is nothing new. Once upon a time, most of us boomers were also ‘barnacles’ – living off our parents’ health plans. Somehow we survived the switch to ‘real world insurance’ once we took our first legitimate job that offered health coverage. No longer is health insurance just a card handed to us by our parents. It becomes a key to gain access to a very complicated system of care. But it also takes time to become educated on what this card will do.

What strikes me most, however, is that today’s coverages have become more, uh, complex. Now more than ever, employers are asking their employees to accept a greater financial burden when seeking healthcare. Not only is this a taxing problem for older employees who have weathered health insurance changes in the past, but for our newly-employed youth who enter the workforce. Think about it, we are handing them a ‘perk’ that requires a greater explanation than a cursory, ‘Good luck with your decisions.’

In a short period of time, young, first-time employees are entering a new world of qualified-high deductible health plan options, coupled with health savings accounts (HSAs), health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), flexible spending accounts (FSAs), preferred provider organizations (PPOs), health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and many other benefits beyond health insurance.

As indicated in a prior blog, “Understanding Health Insurance 101,”only one in 10 Americans can adequately define key components of their health plan, such as deductibles, coinsurance, copayments and out-of-pocket maximums. The other 90 percent is expected to make choices about their coverage that demands additional education from their employers (or vendors).

I enjoyed spending time with my niece discussing her benefit options. Even though it wasn’t the most captivating topic that could be discussed on Thanksgiving, it was a good diversion – and for that, I am thankful!

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