Their car was being followed ... that they could be certain of. When the flashing lights first penetrated the back window an audible gasp came from the back seat. "Be still, let me do all the talking," the driver said to his two passengers. "I had nothing to do with this – I am not taking the fall for you two," the gasper hissed.
The driver pulled to the side of the road, rolled down his window, and prepared his driver's license for the approaching police officer. "Evening," said the officer, "Seems a lot of folks have been looking for you three. Better follow me to the station." The three drove in silence to the station, not sure what awaited them. Upon arrival, they were processed and put in a holding cell together.
"They don't have anything on us, just be cool," said the car's driver – known to his friends as QSR. "Speak for yourself," retorted the passenger – convenience store, or CS as the others called him. "Don't dig yourself in deeper than you already have," directed the back seat gasper – fast casual- FS for short.
A guard entered and took each to a different interrogation room. The team of investigators split up to talk with each and would join up later to compare the trio's stories. The first to be interviewed was FS as she was the most likely not to want to be associated with the other two. Therefore, an easy nut to crack thought the lead investigator.
"So, Fast Casual...looks like your popularity is growing. McDonalds, Wendy's, Chick-fil-A, and others are all testing your format. So my question is – why are you running around with QSR and Convenience Store? They don't seem like your crowd," said the investigator.
FS found her voice, "just what are we charged with exactly?" The question hung for a minute in the air. "The charge is contributing to the obesity crisis," the investigator said as he cocked his head to one side and delivered a self-satisfied smile. "You have nothing on me. I have never been directly associated with promoting or causing obesity," FS said, getting angry now. "No," said the investigator, "but the others have and you have been found in their company tonight." FS now realized she had the upper hand. "That's circumstantial evidence – it will never hold up in court."
But now the investigator had her where he wanted her – she was correct to proclaim her innocence. "But what of your two friends? Let me tell you what we know," and he listed the damning studies:
- According to researchers at the National Cancer Institute the top sources of energy for 2- to 18-year-olds were grain desserts, pizza and soda.
- Researchers from Texas A&M International University studied 75 children between the ages of 3 and 8 and found that advertisements were more influential than parents.
- According to research by the CDC in Michigan, the rate of obesity increased with patronizing of QSRs, from 24 percent of those going less than once a week to 33 percent of those going 3 or more times per week.
- Research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that fast food consumption was related to fast food availability among low-income consumers.
- Out of 3,039 possible QSR kids' meal combinations, only 12 meet nutrition criteria for preschoolers, according to a study by Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
- A study of menu items from Tufts University of national chain restaurants found that 19 percent of individual restaurant menu samples were off by more than 100 calories and lower calorie foods tended to contain more calories than listed.
- Using participants in the Cohort Study of Young Girls' Nutrition, Environment and Transitions, Harvard researchers reported that convenience stores available within a quarter-mile of a girl's residence were associated with a greater risk of obesity and an increase in body mass index after three years.
Fast Casual shot back with her own knowledge of recent research:
- Research from Mintel found that 28 percent of respondents said they never purchased food from a convenience store.
- Harvard found that consumers who live near QSRs may not be heavier than the rest of Americans.
- According to a study by the University of Southern Maine, there were no significant relationships between the proximity or density of food stores around schools and student obesity risk.
- CDC in Michigan reported that 68 percent of adults who go to QSRs said they would choose healthier items; only 16 percent said they ever use nutritional information when ordering.
- New York University found that kids and teens visiting QSRs in New York City and Newark, N.J. weren't influenced by calorie information posted on the menus.
- The University of Washington found that restaurant menu-labeling regulations increased parents' nutrition information awareness but did not decrease calories purchased for children or parents.
- Nearly 50 percent of consumers want healthier menu items, but only about 25 percent of them consider nutrition when dining out, according to research from Technomic.
- An IFIC survey found that 63 percent of consumers can't accurately estimate the number of calories they need, 25 percent won't even guess and only 12 percent know the correct amount to be consumed per day.
- According to Harvard researcher, 80 percent of 547 people ages 11 to 20 underestimate the calories found in meals they order from QSRs.
- Researchers from the University of Iowa found that parents' preference to buy healthy foods is about 50 percent less when they're buying for the kids compared to for themselves.
- Only 14 percent of parents claim they are consistently paying attention to the calories their families consume, according to research by the Dietary Guidelines Alliance.
- U of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found that teens are more likely to overeat when presented with excessive amounts of food due to environmental cues, not physiological cues.
- Gallup's annual Health and Healthcare Survey, found that Americans' actual weight and ideal weight have risen by 20 pounds for women, 15 pounds for men.
Fast Casual leaned forward and said, "Perhaps it is consumers who should be studied further to uncover the reason for their behavioral disconnects. And when you have a free moment – could you also recognize the efforts which QSR and Convenience Stores are putting forth to help consumers with educated choices?" she glared, "I think I would like to see a lawyer now, thanks. Oh, and my coffee is cold."
Suzy Badaracco is a toxicologist, chef, and registered dietitian. She holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Criminalistics, an Associates degree in Culinary Arts, and a Masters of Science degree in Human Nutrition.