How healthy is 'healthy' fast food?
Written by Danielle Rowe
With roadside joints like McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s dotting streets all over the country, it’s easier than ever for consumers to satisfy their hunger with a quick meal. But the convenience of fast food has turned into a health hazard for many Americans: obesity is a serious problem for about 32 percent of the country’s population. A study published in the journal Critical Public Health revealed that obesity can be tied to a high density of fast food restaurants per capita; the US has more than seven-and-a-half fast food joints per person.
And while there’s proof that obesity can be linked with genetics, environmental habits do much more to influence a person’s weight. With today’s world moving at the speed of light, many people find it difficult to devote time to a regular exercise routine and a healthy diet. That means everyone from busy professionals to time-crunched families relies on fast food to keep them fed while they’re on the go.
That’s where ‘healthy’ fast food comes in: restaurants like Subway, Au Bon Pain and Chipotle tout their healthy menu items. Unfortunately though, not every healthy fast food meal lives up to its claims. So, how can people get a decent, nutritious meal on the go? What should consumers and busy executives look out for? And is there a viable alternative to eating out?
Subway is encouraging customers to Eat Smart:
Taking the ‘fast’ out of food
Eating healthily has made its way to the centre of American conversation recently: with the First Lady’s Let's Move! campaign and an increasingly popular local food movement, people are taking more time to think about what they feed themselves and their families, as well as where their food comes from.
However, that rarely translates to a wholesale change of habits: for every supermarket in the country there are five fast food restaurants, which makes finding a burger joint much more convenient than going into a grocery store and buying fresh fruit and vegetables. Low-fat menus and food items with fresh ingredients are making their way to restaurants all over the country to help consumers curb calories without cooking their own meals.
A fresh look at fresh meals
With the shift of daily meals moving from the kitchen to outside the home, the food industry has taken steps to ensure that consumers have the information they need to make healthy food decisions. Still, it’s up to restaurant visitors to read the nutritional information provided before ordering. Casual dining establishments like Panera are helping their customers eat healthy when they choose to.
“Calories are listed on their menu boards,” says IU Health dietician Sarah Muntel, calling Panera a “great place to start” when searching for healthy fast food. She has used her expertise in nutrition to determine which fast food joints are the easiest on consumers’ waistlines. “It is important to make healthy choices and many fast food establishments are making it easy.” But portion size can be as important as calorie count—and with restaurant portions becoming oversized it’s often up to consumers to exercise self-control.
Panera Bread is committed to using fresh, quality ingredients:
“Chipotle prides themselves on fresh fast food, which is great,” Muntel says, using the Mexican restaurant as an example. “But depending on the ingredients people choose in their burrito, the calories can range from 900-1000.” Recommended daily calorific intake varies for each person, but the average daily calorie intake for adult males should be around 2200 calories and 1800 for females. Based on those numbers, it’s easy for consumers to eat half the calories they need in a day in one sitting, even if their meal is considered healthy.
Consider cutting portions in half and saving the rest of the meal for later, or requesting a smaller portion when ordering is one thing people could do to control their calorific intake. Muntel also suggests replacing half of a meal with a fresh side salad to meet daily vegetable requirements.
Making fast food at home
There’s still no substitute for a home-cooked meal and people don’t have to devote an entire evening to it to have a tasty and healthy dinner. Staple ingredients like rice and beans, paired with lean proteins like fish and chicken, can be augmented with fresh veggies to create enough variety to take families through the week. They can also make large portions of meals and pack them to take to lunch the next day.
The Food Network’s website has a list of quick and healthy menus that are light on both stomachs and wallets and investing a little time in cooking at home is the best way for people to know exactly what’s in the food they are eating every day.
Fast food is an integral part of American culture and it serves an important enough purpose for people on the go. But if consumers took the time to research what they eat, it could make the difference between a successful healthy diet and gaining a few extra pounds.
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The challenges to vaccine distribution affecting everyone
While it is comforting to know that vaccines against COVID-19 are showing remarkable efficacy, the world still faces intractable challenges with vaccine distribution. Specifically, the sheer number of vaccines required and the complexity of global supply chains are sure to present problems we have neither experienced nor even imagined.
Current projections estimate that we could need 12-15 billion doses of vaccine, but the largest vaccine manufacturers produce less than half this volume in a year. To understand the scale of the problem, imagine stacking one billion pennies – you would have a stack that is 950 miles high. Now, think of that times ten. This is a massive problem that one nation can’t solve alone.
Even if we have a vaccine – can we make enough? Based on current projections, Pfizer expects to produce up to 1.3 billion doses this year. Moderna is working to expand its capacity to one billion units this year. Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, is likely to produce 60% of the 3 billion doses committed by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi. This leaves us about 7 billion doses short.
Expanding vaccine production for most regions in the world is complicated and time-consuming. Unlike many traditional manufacturing operations that can expand relatively quickly and with limited regulation, pharmaceutical production must meet current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) guidelines. So, not only does it take time to transition from R&D to commercial manufacturing, but it could also take an additional six months to achieve CGMP certification.
The problem becomes even more complex when considering the co-products required. Glass vials and syringes are just two of the most essential co-products needed to produce a vaccine. Last year, before COVID-19, global demand for glass vials was 12 billion. Even if it is safe to dispense ten doses per vial, there is certain to be significant pressure on world supply of the materials needed to package and distribute a vaccine.
It is imperative drug manufacturers and their raw material suppliers have clear visibility of production plans and raw material availability if there is any hope of optimizing scarce resources and maximising production yield.
It is widely known by now that temperature is a critical factor for the COVID-19 vaccine. Even the regions with the most developed logistics infrastructures and resources needed to support a cold-chain network are sure to struggle with distribution.
For the United States alone, State and local health agencies have determined distribution costs will exceed $8.4 billion, including $3 billion for workforce recruitment and training; $1.2 billion for cold-chain, $1 billion vaccination sites and $0.5 billion IT upgrades.
The complexity of the problem increases further when considering countries such as India that do not have cold-chain logistics networks that meet vaccine requirements. Despite India’s network of 28,000 cold-chain units, none are capable of transporting vaccines below -25°Celsius. While India’s Serum Institute has licensed to manufacture AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which can reportedly be stored in standard refrigerated environments, even a regular vaccine cold chain poses major challenges.
Furthermore, security will undoubtedly become a significant concern that global authorities must address with a coordinated solution. According to the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, theft and counterfeiting of pharmaceutical products rose nearly 70% over the past five years. As with any valuable and scarce product, counterfeits will emerge. Suppliers and producers are actively working on innovative approaches to limit black-market interference. Corning, for example, is equipping vials with black-light verification to curb counterfeiting.
Clearly, this is a global problem that will require an unprecedented level of collaboration and coordination.
Disconnected information systems
While it is unreasonable to expect every country around the world will suddenly adopt a standard technology that would provide immediate, accurate and available information for everyone, it is not unreasonable to think that we can align on a standard taxonomy that can serve as a Rosetta Stone for collaboration.
A shared view of the situation (inventory, raw materials, delivery, defects) will provide every nation with the necessary information to make life-saving decisions, such as resource pooling, stock allocations and population coverage.
By allowing one central authority, such as the World Health Organization, to organize and align global leaders to a single collaboration standard, such as GS1, and a standard sharing protocol, such as DSCSA, then every supply chain participant will have the ability to predict, plan and execute in a way that maximises global health.
Political influence and social equality
As if we don’t have enough stress and churn in today’s geopolitical environment, we must now include the challenge of “vaccine nationalism.” While this might not appear to be a supply chain problem, per se, it is a critical challenge that will hinge on supply chain capabilities.
In response to the critical supply issues the world experienced with SARS-CoV-2, the World Health Organization, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) formed Covax: a coalition dedicated to equitable distribution of 2 billion doses of approved vaccines to its 172 member countries. Covax is currently facilitating a purchasing pool and has made commitments to buy massive quantities of approved vaccines when they become available.
However, several political powerhouse countries, such as the United States and Russia, are not participating. Instead, they are striking bilateral deals with drug manufacturers – essentially, competing with the rest of the world to secure a national supply. Allocating scarce resources is never easy, but when availability could mean the difference between life and death, it becomes almost impossible.
Global production, distribution and social equality present dependent yet conflicting realities that will demand global supply chains provide complete transparency and an immutable chain of custody imperative to vaccine distribution.
The technology is available today – we just need to use it. We have the ability to track every batch, pallet, box, vile and dose along the supply chain. We have the ability to know with absolute certainty that the vaccine is approved, where and when it was manufactured, how it was handled and whether it was compromised at any point in the supply chain. Modern blockchain technologies should be applied so that every nation, institution, regulator, doctor and patient can have confidence in knowing that they are making an impact in eradicating COVID-19.