DARE TO ASK: To him, super size describes the workers
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
It seems like every time I go to McDonald's or Wendy's, the workers are fat.
Why is this?
Logan, 15, male, Orange Park
Just a theory: They can't afford to eat healthier, lower-fat diets. Adults
working in fast-food establishments probably aren't at the top of the wage
scale, and it's been noted before that healthier diets are relatively more
expensive. I'd imagine you'll see the same thing in other relatively low-wage
Cari, female, Austin, Texas
A lot of adults and kids are fat. Fast-food franchises pull their workers
from the general population, so it stands to reason that a lot of their workers
will be fat. I'm not sure if you're trying to make some causal connection or
bizarre political statement, but I'd bet most fat fast-food workers were fat
before they started working there.
Ann, 38, Kansas City, Mo.
We downed a burger "all the way," plus potentially authentic onion rings and
a diet Coke (diet!) from the T-U's cafeteria to get in the right mood, then
phoned Margo Wootan, director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science in
the Public Interest in Washington.
We quickly realized we didn't have much time for this silly interview -- we
pined to visit the newsroom's clean, modern bathroom facilities to fully
re-create the fast-food experience.
Wootan was featured liberally in Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock's 2004 film
documenting the nasty health and weight effects of his 30-day exclusive
McDonald's diet. (Spurlock's people said he was indisposed and couldn't be
interviewed -- all right, they didn't use that word, but it conjures up an
appropriate image, as Spurlock suffered terribly during filming and even lost
his lunch on camera after a harrowing try at scarfing another Double Quarter
Pounder, Supersize fries and Supersize drink.)
Where were we? Oh, yeah, Wootan. There doesn't appear to be any published
data verifying whether fast-food workers are fatter or thinner than the general
population, she said.
Because people tend to think of fast food as unhealthy, "He [Logan] may be
projecting on the workers that they are unhealthy. ... Does he have the same
impression of wait staff at sit-down restaurants? The amount of calories and fat
at sit-downs is actually higher than at fast-food places because the portions
are bigger. A sit-down burger can be 900 calories, vs. 300 at a fast-food
While one might reasonably assume many fast-food workers are in lower-income
brackets, the relationship between obesity and income is "not that
straightforward," Wootan said. Low-income women, for example, have been found to
be more overweight on average than higher-income women, but it's the opposite
for low- and high-income men.
Minding calories while surrounded by cheese-fries or chalupas can't be easy,
she said, but fast-food workers ought to bring their own lunch to work when
"And watch out for liquid calories. ... There are six or seven teaspoons of
sugar in a glass of presweetened tea. My husband drank fountain soda where he
worked. Once I talked him into switching his diet, he lost 10 pounds."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.