Exporting American Fast Food Culture

Visit Madrid, Paris, or cities across China and you will find such comforts of home as McDonald’s, Starbucks, and KFC restaurants. Charles Kenny, a fellow at the Center for Global Development, writes in Bloomberg Businessweek that America must stop exporting obesity. Some U.S. companies are exporting fast food and an unhealthy diet worldwide, he says, and finding substantial profits.

The good news for Starbucks, KFC, McDonald’s, and other high calorie dense product companies is that the world is joining America in in its taste for fast food. And global obesity statistics are catching up with America. The percent of people with an unhealthy weight in China, for example, is approximately 45% of Chinese men and 33% of Chinese women, according to 2010 figures from the World Health Association.

While domestic sales growth has slowed, KFC is an example of one fast food outlet that is very popular and growing overseas. YUM! Brands — which owns the KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell brands — operates 37,000 restaurants in 120 countries. In 2012, China alone was home to 3,701 KFC stores, which is about three-quarters of the number in the U.S.

China is well behind American statistics for the number of people with obesity, but the signs of obesity’s impact are developing there. Ninety million Chinese suffer from diabetes, almost four times the number in this country. Kenny argues that growing global over-consumption creates profitable opportunities for U.S. companies to exploit, either by feeding the consumption or  selling drugs to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, and other diseases that result.

But, he argues, such exploitation works against long-term American economic interests. Greater health and productivity are more beneficial to America. Countries struggling with the productivity-sapping effects of obesity, along with the associated tremendous health costs and premature death and disability, harm American interests in the long run. The world economy is so connected that negative forces in other countries limit America’s economy as well.

Click here to read the Bloomberg Businessweek article.

Global Thinking image by Benjamin D. Esham / Wikimedia