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HEALTH REPORT - Fast Food

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

The McDonald's fast-food company is facing legal action by people who say its food made them fat and sick. In New York City, legal action was recently brought against McDonald's and four other fast-food companies.

The lawsuits charge that these companies have not warned people that this kind of food could be harmful. About one-hundred-seventy-thousand American fast-food restaurants sell food that is high in fat, sugar and calories. They include potatoes cooked in oil and meat sandwiches called hamburgers. The restaurants also serve sweet soft drinks.

One man charged that this kind of food damaged his health. He said he had heart attacks and developed the disease diabetes. Several families say their children got fat on fast food and also developed diabetes. One of these teenagers weighs one-hundred-eighty kilograms.

Experts say Americans are now the fattest people in the world. Two years ago, the top government doctor reported an increase in the number of Americans who are too fat. David Satcher said almost sixty percent of American adults weigh too much. Doctor Satcher also said thirteen percent of American children are too fat. He said the fast-food industry, schools and government agencies should change their policies. He said extreme overweight could become the nation's leading cause of preventable death.

A report published by the Center for the Public Interest says Americans spend about half their food budgets on meals eaten outside the home. Many eating places have increased the size of their servings. And it is difficult to know the amount of fat and nutrients in the food served in restaurants. Processed foods sold in food stores are required to include this information.

The food industry spends large amounts of money on advertisements to get people to buy their products. In nineteen-ninety-eight, for example, McDonald's spent about one-thousand-million dollars on ways to increase its business. McDonald's and Hershey Foods have given money to an international food organization to set up an Internet Web site. The goal is to get children to exercise more. But critics say the food industry is not doing enough to protect the public's health.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.

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News update: On January 22, a federal judge dismissed a civil action brought against McDonald's by a lawyer for some young, overweight New Yorkers. Judge Robert Sweet said that if people know or should know they might gain weight or suffer health problems, then they cannot blame the company if they eat large amounts of "supersized McDonald's products."

At the same time, though, he said the young people might have a better case if they could show that "the dangers of McDonald's products were not commonly well known and thus that McDonald's had a duty toward its customers." The judge said Chicken McNuggets, for example, "rather than being merely chicken fried in a pan, are a McFrankenstein creation of various elements not utilized by the home cook."

McDonald's released a statement on January 24 that it uses "the same chicken suppliers that stock grocery store shelves and kitchens across America." The statement, reported by the New York Times, said McNuggets "are made from marinated, boneless, white and dark meat with no fillers. The chicken is then battered and breaded and cooked in vegetable oil."

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