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Fast food conquers Russia, brings obesity

February 18, 2014, 18:38 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, February 18. /ITAR-TASS/. Russia’s first McDonald’s fast food restaurant opened on downtown Moscow’s Pushkinskaya Square in late January 1990, causing unprecedented buzz among Muscovites who formed a multi-kilometer line to taste American fast food.

International fast food came to Russia together with capitalism and quickly captured the Russian market. Now Russian scientists are echoing their Western colleagues: fast food is bad for health, it contributes to obesity. Lawmakers want to restrict its spread, but this will hardly change the situation.

As of mid-February 2014, Russia had 416 operating McDonald’s restaurants. The US-headquartered corporation’s sales in 2009 exceeded 33 billion rubles ($934 million at current rates).

In late 2011, the Subway fast food chain outperformed McDonald’s to become Russia’s largest: a total of 673 Subway restaurants were opened by January 2014. Russia also has eateries of other international chains - Burger King, KFC, Sbarro.

Domestic brands include Teremok and Kroshka Kartoshka, where traditional Russian meals are cooked. There are also many less civilized kiosks with Shawarma that have infested nearly all Russian cities. So, the fast food market in Russia is prospering.

Scientists from various countries have long rung the alarm over the harmful effects of fast food. A group of independent researchers from the United States and Ireland who studied the reasons for an epidemic of obesity in 25 countries with the highest income level has presented figures to prove a connection between fast food and obesity.

The authors of the research, just published in a World Health Organization (WHO) bulletin, have proven with statistical data that a rise in the body mass index (weight-height ratio) directly depends on the frequency of visits to fast food restaurants.

It turned out that average residents of 25 countries where the research was conducted had excessive weight, and the situation has remained unchanged for the past 15 years.

According to the WHO, 80% of deaths in Russia are caused by chronic noncommunicable diseases (NCD), many of which develop as a result of excessive weight and obesity. Excessive weight and obesity, according to medics, considerably increase the risk of such serious diseases as diabetes, heart failure, stroke and cancer.

“From all vital organs and systems of the human organism, the cardiovascular system suffers from obesity the most,” the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily quotes Russian Academy of Medical Sciences member Yury Buziashvili, who is a deputy director of the Bakulev Cardiovascular Surgery Institute.

According to Buziashvili, in the middle of the 20th century, obesity was diagnosed in people whose weight was 30% above the norm, whereas today it is diagnosed in people weighing 130-140 kilograms and more. The heart in such cases has to supply an extra “organism” in terms of weight with blood. It obviously wears down. The pathology spreads to peripheral veins and arteries. Such people are likely to develop disabilities in the future, he said.

Child obesity indices in Russia are growing, including due to children’s interest in fast food, another member of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, former chief Russian public health official Gennady Onishchenko recently warned.

“As regards obesity in children, the indices are unfortunately growing in our country. We have 12.2% growth compared to 2009. The reason is fast food, greasy food, chips, Coca-Cola, hypodynamia (sedentary lifestyle). But fast food first and foremost,” he said on the Ekho Moskvy radio.

Russian parliamentarians have already taken care of the problem. In particular, St. Petersburg legislative assembly lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, known for his fervent crusade against the propaganda of homosexuality, has proposed limiting the consumption of fast food in Russia by introducing amendments to the law “On the quality and safety of food.”

The bill adopted in June 2013 by the St. Petersburg legislature in the first reading said it aimed at improving the quality of nutrition for Russians. The draft law is expected to be later submitted to the lower house of parliament, the State Duma.

An explanatory note to the bill names excessive consumption of products containing trans-fats as one of the reasons why the number of cardiovascular system diseases is growing. According to the WHO, a person can safely consume trans-fats if they constitute not more than 1% of the entire ration, where as the share of such fats in a portion of French fries totals 30-40%.

Lawmakers propose introducing a ban on the production, import, wholesale and retail trade in food with the mass content of trans-isomers of fatty acids exceeding 2 percent. Besides, lawmakers say, the food packaging should have warnings on the potential harm of such food to health.

A State Duma MP from the Liberal Democratic Party, Roman Khudyakov, in turn, proposes limiting fast food advertising. He is drafting amendments to the advertising law in line with which street and television ads will have to conform to certain criteria in order to be broadcast on state-run TV channels or be placed on public transport and street billboards.

The lawmaker said publicly accessible ads should not publicize items of intimate hygiene, sex industry merchandize and fast food. The MP’s initiative has already found support with many of his colleagues.


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