Teens gorging themselves to an early grave
While online weeks ago, I stumbled across shocking photos of South Korean teenagers who publicised their bizarre dining experience: They gorged themselves on French fries piled on trays, taking pictures of their feast _ a so-called "potato party" _ and then posted them on social networks. And they also challenged the world by saying that they don't care about eating such a staggeringly unhealthy diet.
According to news reports, the recent eating craze began in Japan when a certain fast food giant with a red-and-yellow logo launched a special promotional menu of fries, with any size order priced at just 150 (about 45 baht). When teens started arranging their potato parties and uploaded the pictures online, the craze, as expected, encouraged copycats very quickly. I'm not sure if this eating fad has become popular among Thai teens yet.
A group of youngsters in Okayama, Japan, ordered 60 large portions of fries, while a group of Korean teens bought 16 service trays piled with fries for their feast and angered the restaurant's staff who asked them to leave as their fry feast, which lasted for three hours, annoyed other customers.
Why do children put themselves through so much pain to gorge on fried potato chips? And I can't image how their bodies can cope with such a big, bad diet.
Fast food restaurants always spice up their promotions with advertising and in-store promotions in order to entice customers, particularly students and children, who are their prime targets. They often come up with special promotional menu items. They sometimes sell their food along with a toy that is often linked to a newly-released film.
A menu with perfect illustrations advertised in a magazine makes it hard to resist. A burger comes with a toasted bun sandwiching triple beef patties with double cheese and stuffed with green chilli peppers and onions slathered with ketchup and mustard. Oh yeah, and there's an extra pickle slice for each beef patty. I have to admit that I sometimes buy one because it looks so good. And it's difficult to deny my cheeseburger craving and avoid the urge to hit the drive-through service that's open all night.
The rise of fast food outlets, service convenience and tempting promotions have been linked to the development of unwholesome eating habits that cause a variety of health problems. The cheaper the food, the more accessible it is.
Fast food chains should be more concerned about their promotional menus. We may not find anything visually wrong with French fries. After all, they are just fried pieces of potato. But when we consider their calorific value, we may be in for a shock. A large portion of French fries packs about 500 calories. Although fries are considered a side dish, they are high in calories, bad fats and salt.
Potatoes are a good source of carbohydrates when we cook them in a healthy way and enjoy them in moderation. But frying them is a problem. Trans fats from oil, which potatoes absorb during the cooking process, can turn a healthy vegetable into harmful dish that raises the risk of heart disease in the long run as the bad fats are linked to clogging the arteries. In a hot country like Thailand, the fries can beat us up straight away if we go overboard because the food can heat up the body.
I was excited to learn that many fast food restaurants are attempting to offer healthier options after years of criticism about the negative effects of a fast food diet. For instance, they now serve low trans fat and nutritional items. However, this move isn't really a big enough step.
Parents also play a key role in educating their children and helping them to develop healthy eating habits. Explain to them why it's so important not to consume fast food so often. It's fine to enjoy nice but unhealthy food from time to time but then it's essential to increase physical activity to burn up the increased amount of calories taken in.
Parents can also act as role models by making healthy food choices as children learn best by example. The younger the better.
It's no real concern if children order large amounts of food from time to time, so long as they eat it all up, otherwise the food goes to waste.
I wish fast food restaurants were more aware of the impact of their promotions. We have to do our best to educate our families to become responsible consumers who are also knowledgeable about food so that children are able to establish good eating habits which they will continue throughout their lives. This will also help the nation fight the current epidemic of childhood obesity.
Sukhumaporn Laiyok is a feature writer for the Bangkok Post.