By James Wellemeyer
Tartan Films/courtesy Everett Collection
A photo of an “American food aisle” in a British grocery is causing an online uproar, but the real travesty may be how accurately it captures America’s unhealthy love affair with processed food.
Americans on Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR +2.03% professed shock and confusion after seeing hot dogs in a jar on a shelf at the U.K. grocery chain Tesco /zigman2/quotes/207784767/composite TSCDY +1.66% .
Other products in the aisle included buckets of ’sweet & salty’ popcorn, a variety of Hershey’s chocolate bars, the infamous American processed dessert Twinkies, ‘King Size’ Reese’s peanut butter cups and Jelly Belly jelly beans.
It looks more like the candy aisle than the cuisine of a specific country. Other products in the aisle included buckets of “sweet & salty” popcorn, a variety of Hershey’s /zigman2/quotes/202765576/composite HSY -1.12% chocolate bars, the infamous American processed dessert Twinkies, /zigman2/quotes/201416450/composite TWNK +0.08% “King Size” Reese’s peanut butter cups and Jelly Belly jelly beans.
Yasmin Summan, a 20-year-old from Birmingham, England, caused the international tempest in a teapot after tweeting three pictures of the store’s “American food aisle.” She asked if the products were an “accurate” representation of American food.
No, many users responded, citing jarred hot dogs as the strangest product on display. Tesco did not respond immediately to a request for comment. “Hot dogs in a jar are an insult to American standards,” user @shadowsilver91 wrote.
The jarred hot dogs, Dino’s Famous Brooklyn Big Dogs, are made by a U.K.-based company, according to the Tesco website . The site instructs shoppers to heat the frankfurters in warm water, but to not boil them.
Hot dogs are of course a traditional favorite in the U.S., and Americans eat about 20 billion hot dogs each year, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. Though many said they were shocked to see them in jars, some companies, including Germany-based Wikinger , do sell jarred hot dogs.
The tweet probably struck a patriotic nerve because hot dogs are synonymous with the American diet. Professional eater Joey Chestnut ate 71 hot dogs in 10 minutes to claim his 12th victory at the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest .
Beyond the jarred hot dogs, the aisle makes some troubling assumptions about the American diet
The American food aisle may have struck a nerve.
Many Americans are aware of the risks that come with eating processed meats like hot dogs, but that doesn’t mean they’ll quit. Despite warning about health risks, U.S. adults were eating just as much processed meat in 2016 as they were back in 1999, according to a study published in June in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Despite warning about health risks, U.S. adults were eating just as much processed meat in 2016 as they were back in 1999, according to a study published in June in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Between 2013 and 2016, just under 37% of U.S. adults ate some form of “fast food” on any given day, according to a CDC report from October 2018 . That’s nearly 85 million Americans. The percentage was higher for young adults — between the ages 20 and 39 — at nearly 44.9%. It was also higher for non-Hispanic black adults.
The study defined fast food as “restaurant fast food/pizza.” Fast food is more likely to contain high levels of sugars, fats, and salts that can increase one’s risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other health conditions.
A recent University of Paris study of more than 100,000 people found that individuals who ate the most “ultra-processed foods” — which often contain sugars, preservatives, and saturated fats — had a greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke. They’ve also been linked to cancer.
By 2016, 39.8% of U.S. adults were considered obese, according to a 2017 report from the CDC. Obesity rates in the U.S. are continuing to rise. In 1999, the adult obesity rate sat at 30.5% and the youth obesity rate was 13.9%. The youth rate has now reached nearly 20%, the CDC says.
Junk food is convenient, and getting away from it can be expensive
The overall medical cost of obesity in America was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars, the CDC estimated . And individuals who are obese spend an average of $1,429 more on medical costs each year than those who are normal weight.
But junk and fast food is also cheaper for most Americans. A study published in the journal Cell Metabolism found that an unprocessed diet cost 40% more than an ultra-processed one.
However, those with higher incomes were, in fact, more likely to eat junk food on a given day, according to the CDC.
Tesco shares are up 24.83% this year compared to a 15% increase for the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.88% and a 19% gain for the S&P 500 Index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -1.12%