Bahl: Crazy food shows provide terrible examples for health


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There is direct relationship between increasing hours of screen time and increased body weight, obviously due to the decrease in physical activity. 

Morgan Bahl

Let’s think for a moment about the correlation between TV watching and increasing rates of obesity. There is direct relationship between increasing hours of screen time and increased body weight, obviously due to the decrease in physical activity. So now, let’s combine these into a lethal combination … outrageous food shows. “Man v. Food,” “Outrageous Food,” along with “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” are all entertaining and fun to watch but they are not fostering healthy habits in eating, exercise or distribution of food. Despite the mouth-watering entertainment, there are more negatives than positives in this super-sized dilemma.

First of all, these types of shows are teaching bad eating habits. If you have ever watched these types of shows, you will have noticed that the eating challenges are never 5 pounds of carrots and ranch dressing or 3 buckets of house salad. More commonly, the food challenges are things like a 5 pound burrito or the equivalent of 16 cheeseburgers. Not only is the volume of food crazy, but the time limits commonly attached to the dishes are much too short for proper digestion. The plates are full of saturated fat-laded beef and cheese, trans fatty French fries [although there have been strides in reducing this fat] and sky-scraping sodium levels. These nutrients are common in fast food and restaurant dishes and together are contributing to the large numbers of obese individuals. Over consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol from animal products, cheese and other dairy products can lead the buildup of plaque in the arteries and atherosclerosis, along with heart disease and other serious cardiovascular diseases. Trans fat in never good for you, as the news has made clear in the past couple of years and sodium is infamous for increasing the risk of hypertension and serious health complications.

The aforementioned nutrients are already harmful enough in normal, average-sized portions, let alone ridiculous super-sized ones. Considering the stomach can comfortably hold a liter of food, these challenges far exceed that limit and for that reason are detrimental to health. Of course, people will say that “It’s only a once-in-a-while thing” and you just have to work out to burn it. However, most people will overindulge more than once in a while. Especially in our culture today, people will eat out more than once or twice a week, consume the large restaurant portions and thus probably would not think twice about taking on an outrageous food challenge. And as for burning the meal off, that is hardly realistic or manageable. Those burger, burrito and hot wing plates can easily have 2,000+ calories. It would take approximately 4 hours of jogging to burn that off. So if someone is prepared to run a marathon after their indulgence … more power to him or her.

Besides the health and habit formation of the viewers, it is important to consider the health of the TV show hosts. Man v. Food was canceled and the producer was cited wanting to ensure the Adam Richman’s health, which implies that the events of the show were causing harm to his well-being. Well, if you were paid to go from city to city eating things called the “heart-clogger” or some derivative of that, it is easy to understand why.

Moreover, there is some ethical and moral problems with the shows as well. Alton Brown from the Food Network is quoted as calling the show “disgusting,” and saying, “The show is about gluttony, and gluttony is wrong. It’s wasteful. Think about people that are starving to death and think about that show. I think it’s an embarrassment.”

In a less extreme view, TV critic Alan Sepinwall thinks that “It ain’t deep, and it certainly ain’t healthy [I could feel my arteries clog just from watching], but it’s fun.” I think most people would tend to hold similar views with Sepinwall, maintaining that it is just a TV show and its purpose is to entertain, advertise local restaurants, etc. But in a more world-conscious view, Brown is right. There are people starving in developing countries and even down the street at the local homeless shelter, wondering where their next meal will come from and here we are sitting on the couch, watching a host gorge himself on copious amounts of food. It is rather sick irony.

It reminds me of the scene in “Catching Fire” when Katniss and Peeta are at the party in the Capitol and the guest suggests Peeta drink the substance that will allow him to vomit everything up so that he can keep eating the all of the offerings. Rather disturbing, given people back in District 12 are eating squirrels and foraging for berries. Just a brief allusion but still sufficient in pointing out an embarrassing reality in our culture.

If you enjoy watching people eat significantly more than the human body can handle, or are disgusted by the whole concept, be a little bit critical of these shows. They may be fun and mouth-watering but the underlying issues with them are strong. Don’t be subliminally persuaded into thinking that you should and can take part on a regular basis and won’t have health consequences. Also, think about the hidden moral implications as well: If we can make millions of dollars off of a show based on food in excess, then surely we can work a little harder on spreading the monetary and nutrient wealth.