I’ll Take Four Burgers And A Heart Attack, Please

Is it just me, or does the following quote horrify you?

“The unapologetically unhealthy restaurant . . . serves . . . 9,982-calorie ‘quadruple bypass burgers.’ (Patrons who are able to finish them are escorted to their cars in wheelchairs.) Customers who weigh over 350 pounds eat free.”

Quadruple Bypass Burger® Image credit: heartattackgrill.com

Quadruple Bypass Burger® Image credit: heartattackgrill.com

Surely You Jest

That quote comes from a recent Yahoo! News article announcing the death of a second unofficial spokesperson and regular patron of the Heart Attack Grill restaurant, a restaurant which literally lives up to its name (Heart Attack Grill Spokesman Dies of Apparent Heart Attack). Other patrons over the years have enjoyed various “medical emergencies while dining at the grill,” including a man who suffered a heart attack “while eating a ‘triple bypass burger’.”

What, you mean I don’t have to pay extra for that?

Before I took this year to play in the writing world, a research path in pediatric obesity beckoned me, beginning with my public health degree’s capstone project

So let me indulge in a bit of public health talk. I promise I’ll be gentle.

Whose Fault Is It?

When it comes to obesity, it’s easy to blame the individual.

If she ate less and exercised more, she wouldn’t be overweight.

Whoa. Not so fast. It’s not quite as simple as that.

The influences of any chronic condition, including obesity, nest within one another. In public health we refer to this as the Social Ecological Model.

Image credit: Partners in Action (depts.washington.edu)

Image credit: Partners in Action (depts.washington.edu)

  • At the core of the model is the individual; let’s call him Joe.
  • A social network of family, friends, and coworkers wrap their loving arms around Joe.
  • Further snuggling this motley crew is the outside community, complete with its environmental evils (restaurants called the Heart Attack Grill) and environmental angels (parks, sidewalks, accessible gyms).
  • Next up comes the institutional tier, where healthcare systems and organizations help influence Joe’s health outcomes at all three of the previous levels.
  • And finally, formal policies help keep Joe in check, whether at the local, state, or federal level.

Think of the arrangement as a lovely set of nesting dolls. Or an ugly set, like this one my husband picked up in St. Petersburg, Russia.

“Hey, my sweet Oksana, some American debil finally bought those ugly babushkas!”

In other words, it takes two to tango. Or in this case, five.

Come On, Carrie, That’s Crazy

Before you accuse me of making excuses for a person’s obesity, please know that I do understand it ultimately comes down to individual behavior. But arguing about that gets us nowhere. The fact is, many people choose not to or are unable to change their behaviors, and it’s easier to understand why when one considers this nesting doll model:

Bubba: “Hey Joe, come out to eat with us tonight.”

Joe: “Well, I should really make a healthy meal at home.”

Bubba: “Oh, come on, it’s 5-dollar off night at that Heart Attack place. What are you, a wuss?”

Joe: “Hey, who’re you calling a wuss? I’m in. But maybe we should walk there to get a little exercise.”

Bubba: “No can do. You know there aren’t any sidewalks on the busy road leading to the burger joint. The cars will smack us down like bowling pins.”

Joe: “Okay, I’ll drive then. But I have to get home early. I haven’t been feeling so good. My insurance sucks, so I’ve missed my check-ups. And they don’t cover my blood pressure meds, so I’ve only been taking half a pill.”

Bubba: “That stinks. There should be a law saying they have to cover those things.”

Dotty Dee, who’s been silent thus far: “They should make a law banning restaurants that serve 10,000-calorie burgers…”

I hope you get my point. Yes, as individuals we need to make good choices. But no, society should not get off scot-free. Only when change happens at every level can positive outcomes occur.

Related Articles/Websites

Overweight and Obesity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Nutrition and Obesity, American Public Health Association

Creating Vibrant, Healthy Communities, Healthscaping Northwest Blog

* * *

Carrie Rubin is a physician with a master’s degree in public health. She is the author of The Seneca Scourge, a medical thriller.

512 Responses to “I’ll Take Four Burgers And A Heart Attack, Please”

  1. GatewayVegans

    I loved your post. You make a really great point. I do believe that society plays a huge role in obesity and they should be held accountable.
    I personally love to go out to eat. However, we are constantly finding that it is incredibly difficult to find food at restaurants that is even remotely healthy. On top of the desire for healthy food when we go out, we also add the requirement that it be vegan. It is amazing to me how many restaurants simply have nothing to offer us, when really it would probably be easier and less expensive for them to provide a reasonable portioned entree made up of vegetables than an enormous slab of meat, they just seem to lack the creativity to come up with anything.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I agree; it can be really difficult to find something healthy and less than 1,000 calories in a restaurant. It’s gotten to the point that when we eat out as a family on the weekend, we use that as our primary meal for the day and just have something light for the other two meals, if even that. I imagine it’s even more difficult when one’s a vegan. I don’t eat red meat (though I’ll eat poultry), and I find even that difficult. So much meat on a menu! Who needs all that? And then when you are able to order a side of broccoli, it’s either frozen or steamed and seeped in butter. Frustrating.

      Glad you liked the post, and thanks so much for stopping by!

      Like

  2. Andrea

    hmmm.. interesting. I don’t think it’s as controversial as you mentioned in the next post. I lean more towards it being we fatties who are responsible, since any grown arse adult in this day and age of the google machine SHOULD know what’s good or not good for them. McD’s is only busy because people choose to eat there. Then again, I think restaurants have an obligation to do the right thing with their menus and for their patrons. Paula Deen is the antichrist poster child for the unethical, cooking that unhealthy garbage and not telling anyone she’s diabetic for what, a year? Aweful. PS…Freshly Pressed!! Go girl! 🙂

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Well, I think the controversy comes in because I don’t think it’s the individual’s fault all on his/her own. I think we’ve created an environment that dangerously promotes obesity.

      And yeah, that whole Paula Deen thing was crazy. At least she’s coming out now and talking about it, and she and her family have lost lots of pounds.

      Thanks for stopping by! You know I appreciate it. 🙂

      Like

      • Andrea

        Been trying to read more consistently, but between the work computer, the ipad and the phone and the “LIKE” buttons not working on anybodies pages half the time, it’s hard to catch up! 😉

        Like

  3. skybunnies

    I love this post! I’ve been on a clean eating journey as a part of a fitness model quest and being health conscious is more than what happens in the gym and kitchen- it’s also dealing with the social pressure of “fitting in” at restaurants, cafes, etc. Isolation from the rest of the world was HUGE for me at the beginning, simply because I CHOSE not to join in when my friends, colleagues, family, etc. ate junk. Some people understood, others would sneer and give dirty looks.
    Anyway, you’ve summarized it extremely well: individual choice is key here, but society is also partially to blame!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      It’s not fair that people who are making an effort to be healthy can’t go out to eat without risking sabotaging their attempts. And it’s even worse when family members and friends sabotage one’s efforts. So I empathize with you trying to make positive changes when others around you make it more difficult.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

      Like

  4. daniheart21

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. 🙂 I agree. When I stopped eating sugar in my early 20s many people around me were inadvertently sabotaging me. I think people just don’t realize. I found that to be good with my dietary restrictions I had to avoid some people in my life for a while because they didn’t understand and they made it really hard for me to do what I needed to do. Great post. 🙂

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you! And you’re right, sabotagers make it so difficult for people, whether it be food, alcohol, tobacco, or other substances. I think the Heart Attack Grill and other restaurants are major sabotagers. We went out to eat last night at a local restaurant, and it was so nice to be served reasonable portions. There’s no reason eating out should make one have to forfeit all other meals for the day, but when a plate contains 1500-2000 calories, that’s what needs to be done.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Like

  5. Lori D

    Yikes, I’m the odd man out on this topic. Don’t know if I should counter it or not. For me, I’d just like the nutrition information on a restaurant, then I can make my own decision on whether or not to eat there. As far as I can tell, a restaurant calling itself the “heart attack,” is clearly advertising exactly what it is. It’s not hiding anything about its lack of nutrition or its potential danger. Therefore, as a responsible adult who cares about my health, I choose not to eat there. I know not everyone is as responsible, but that’s where we move into delicate freedom issues, which can lead to the loss of one freedom after another, at least from my perspective. Guess I did share my ‘odd man out’ view after all (politically incorrect as I am). JMHO, and I respect yours as well.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      And honestly, I agree with you. One would hope people could make their own good decisions. Unfortunately, they don’t, and we keep getting larger, and our health care costs keep getting higher. So I guess at this point, it’s worth asking, what else can be done?

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. All are appreciated!

      Like

      • kyliemarie

        I totally agree.
        I think both parties are to blame, BUT you CAN control what you consume no matter what. If people are going to buy it there will always be someone who will sell it. I’m also a person who rarely bends to “peer pressure” so I guess that’s easier for me to say than someone who easily falls under pressure of others. I’ve also been lactose intolerant my entire life so I’ve always been careful about what I eat, when I eat it and how much I eat so it is a type of second nature, though something I still had to learn to do. My hubby was very over weight until recently and he often just couldn’t say no to his food, if he wanted it he would literally crave it until he had it so he’d go buy it, cook it, etc. He was also raised to clear his plate and he did always until now. He was raised that a snack was a cookie and I was raised a snack was an apple. It really can be a matter of “being a product of your environment”. Some people are not educated on what food can do to you, it really is amazing how oblivious some people are to what that 1/4 lb bacon cheese burger & plate full of fries can do to you or the fact that you simply don’t need that much food.

        Like

        • Carrie Rubin

          I think you’re right–holding back is easier for some than others, just like with any addiction. And I use the word ‘addiction’ because there are interesting studies that suggest the right amount of fat, sugar, and salt releases feel-good dopamine in the brain, triggering us to eat more. And of course, we probably don’t need a study to tell us that. Very few people overindulge on grapes or carrots, but yet they find it difficult to put the spoon down when eating ice cream. That’s why I think it’s important to tackle the problem from all angles.

          Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts!

          Like

  6. allaboutwellnesssolutions

    Hi Carrie.

    Great post! All the better for all of the comments and thought that were generated.

    We in North America are both fortunate and unfortunate in that so called progress has brought us so many labor saving choices. Along with that came convenience, distraction and ready access to choices that in the past were luxuries.

    We have become lazy and expect technology and science to save us from our own poor choices. There is a pill or a surgery to fix that. The trade off for convenience is we have stopped using our bodies which were built to move. In addition we get all of our food from someone else often even already prepared.

    50 years ago everyone had a garden or bought food that was grown in rich soil. Then we prepared our meals and ate them as families with no distraction other than conversation.

    We have as a society lost the joy and satisfaction of our food and family or friends. We were a family of 6 kids on a farm – yes we had to work and yes I hated planting the garden, picking weeds, harvesting and processing. But having said that, we have a lot of fun memories of those shared experiences.

    Making a meal was not quick and took work as did clean up. The supper table was your social network where you shared all the news. It was not unusual to have unexpected visitors who always pitched in with the prep and clean-up.

    Now we are too busy! Now we get most food some what or totally prepared and communicate through devices. We have no idea about the growing conditions or soil health. We have lost so much.

    Cigarette packages require graphic warnings in Canada – Maybe the same has to be instituted for all fast and restaurant foods that are like the heart attack burger. A video playing a massive heart attack and a coffin, prominently displayed in this restaurant and it’s advertizing. would be interesting. Menus with pictures of health complications eg exploding heart and coffins beside the bad choices. HMMMMM. Gruesome but so is the current reality.

    Our kids were taught Reduce, Re-use and Recycle. Maybe we need a similar program for healthy food choices, starting very early.

    Those are my ramblings.

    Deb

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment, Deb. So well said and so true. People have forgotten the importance of home-cooked, family dinners, both for nutrition value and for family congregation. Studies have shown that adolescents who live in families who dine together most nights of the week have less social problems and substance abuse–just by eating at home with the family! Pretty amazing stuff. My kids love our family dinners. They’d never admit it of course, but I can tell by how animated they are.

      I like that some schools are starting local garden projects. It’s a step in the right direction.

      Thanks again!

      Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Yes, horrifying, isn’t it? They did well with their marketing, I suppose. Too bad they didn’t use any common sense. Or ethics…

      Thanks for the comment!

      Like

  7. Marylin Warner

    It’s not just restaurants and bars out to make a profit.
    We have former friends from college who host a No Bull b-b-q in Texas–if you can eat (and not throw up or pass out) 64 oz. of ribs (the bones don’t count in the weight) in 30 min., you get a case of Johnny Walker; if you can’t do it, you owe them a case. AND they also have a junior division for children and/or grandchildren between 13 and 16 with 48 oz. When other friends told us about this, we didn’t even ask what the prize (or penalty) was.
    As my dad would have said, “Somebody has too much free time, and not enough brains to figure out what something good to do with it.”

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      A junior category? That horrifies and scares me more than anything. What a horrible message to send to kids. Makes me wonder how much more of this is going on. I think your dad was spot on in his assessment. Yikes.

      Thanks, Marylin!

      Like

  8. Malia Schroeder

    Isn’t the model missing a ring for that guy on Man v Food? I think he should get at least a mention as being such an inspiration to create and consume such ginormous amounts.

    Like

  9. goaskrita

    At the end of the day, lets no one forget that we shouldn’t shoot the messenger. This burger we’ve all grown to love bashing really just happened to have the misfortune of finding infamy by way of being assembled. He’s not the one we want. Although maybe just a quarter of him for dinner tonight wouldn’t be a ‘quarter’ bad idea… ha,ha… (actually not deleriously funny at an EKG reading.

    Its just one more sign of our mismanaged times. Too much freedom of choice, so we do too little with it. Why? Because we got a licence now. We’re legal. Let us not blame a meat patty for doing us in. Let us instead become conscious of this freedom of speech and of restaurant license and do something worthwhile and less fattening/life threatening with our time here on earth or for supper. Plus, lest we choose to, on purpose, forget: just as our license would be revoked if we step out of line in some way– maybe our spatula (the real murder weapon) should be as well.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Clever comment! And I agree–we shouldn’t ‘blame the meat patty’ nor the cow it came from. But I do blame the restaurant for creating a 10,000-calorie monstrosity…

      Thank you!

      Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      It’s funny–The health department shuts down restaurants that are a hazard to the public’s health because of uncleansliness. Maybe they need to do the same here…

      Like

  10. thebookybunhead

    Thanks for an entertaining and insightful post. I am still laughing at the fact that there’s a restaurant named after a heart attack…

    Like

  11. butimbeautiful

    I agree that lots of things conspire, so to speak, to make us fat. In my city public transport is pretty crappy so people mostly use cars – the sight of obese employees of the Federal Department of Health wheezing up to the lift is common. Still, I could catch a bus to work, with a half hour walk, taking me an hour or so – that’s my choice. I don’t think we should make laws against fatty food. I do sort of think we should invest in more walkable, bikable cities – but then, in my city, it becomes uneconomic, because people PREFER to go by car. What do you do!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I agree–we need to do so much better with urban and suburban planning. Make it easier to walk places. Spread clusters of stores all over, so people can easily walk to shop for the things they need. Would definitely help at that level of the model.

      Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

      Like

  12. The Tonic for Gorgeous

    In Australia heart disease is the #1 killer of middle aged women. Yet our obesity levels continue to rise. It’s been described as an obesity epidemic. We are so fortunate in Australia, as in most developed countries, to have access to an amazing range of fresh, nutritious produce, yet still we pour into fast food restaurants in droves. And worse still, teaching our kids this is the way you eat. It is our choice what we eat and good choices are the only way we see change come about. Thanks for the blog, Carrie.
    Grace

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      It started in the US and has been spreading to other countries, no doubt. We have managed to share our fast-food restaurants with the rest of the world, which benefits no one other than the owners of the restaurants. And as you point out, our children then learn that overeating is normal; or, at least, their perceptions of portion sizes get distorted. Very sad.

      Thanks so much for reading and for commenting!

      Like

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