Reasons behind Fast Food Addiction in the UAE

Introduction

Earlier, the locals of United Arab Emirates (UAE) had the habit of eating nutritious and freshly cooked food in the warmth of their homes. Recent times have witnessed a change in this perception due to changed preferences of the people – especially the younger lot (The United Arab Emirates, 2010). They now prefer having fast food such as burgers, French fries, shawarma (a local non-vegetarian delicacy wrapped in a khuboos), etc. There are several reasons that can be attributed to this change. The transformation from home-made food to fast food has been so severe and wide-spread that people have become addicted to fast food in the UAE. Besides considering the reasons for this addiction, this paper will also explain (briefly) the implications of such an addiction.

As is understood, UAE has an abundance of oil on which the country’s economy is mainly based. After the discovery of oil, the living standard of people has changed dramatically. While earlier the people of UAE were confined to their place of residence, today they have exposure to the global community. The Western culture has had great influence on the locals of the UAE. The incoming Western culture was accompanied by the eating habits as well and this is how the concept of fast food got introduced in the UAE.

Likewise other businesses, the fast food sector also adopts strategies depending on the target audience. Considering the addiction of the people of the UAE, fast food companies are introducing innovative concepts in their products and marketing strategies to woo their customers. The buyers have an inclination to buy good quality products at cheaper prices. As such, they don’t mind changing the suppliers and buying from the one that offers good quality at better prices. In other words, buyers want best value for their money. There is a noteworthy chance for the purchasers to concentrate on the industry and its firm benefits.

There are several factors that acted as catalysts in promoting this concept throughout the UAE. The first one that comes to mind is the change in the lifestyle of the people living in the UAE (locals and expatriates). Hectic work schedules (for elders) don’t allow them to devote time to shop for ingredients of food to cook. This particular situation became more critical once women were allowed to work in offices in the UAE. So, the time factor is also responsible for preference for fast food (Zafar, Abbasi, Choudhry, & Riaz, 2002)1.

Oil has brought prosperity to the country and as such, the younger lot has started having ample money to spend. Long school hours necessitate food intake and since they don’t bring packed-food from their homes, they rely on fast-food (that can be found in abundance throughout the country). Another important factor is the country’s technological development. Relating addiction (to fast food) to technology might seem awkward but the fact is that the advanced technology has enabled the fast food companies to advertise their products through various media options. It is understood that advertisements have a great influence on the people’s mind (especially the younger lot). People want to try any new product that is launched. Even foreign fast food companies want to launch their products in the UAE; Pizza Hut launched its ‘Crown Crust Pizza’ in the UAE (Cheeseburger pizzas, 2012).

Nonetheless, this change in the eating habits of the people of the UAE has serious implications. The most significant among such implications is the impact on the health of people. Fast food addiction has resulted in obesity among the people. Obesity makes a person lethargic and as such, his/her performance gets affected. Obesity might also lead to cardiac problems and diabetes (Khalaf, 2011)2. There are some economic implications as well. According to a study, fast food is costlier than home-cooked food (Bankman, 2014).

Moreover, most of the fast-food outlets are franchisees of foreign companies. As such, most of the revenue goes to those countries. However, the most significant implication is on the culture of the UAE. The family tradition has lost its values and incidents of families eating together are very rare. The Abu Dhabi government has taken an appreciable step to safeguard the children from the negative impacts of fast food; fast food was banned in schools (Johnson, Sahu, & Saxena, 2012).

Considering the aforementioned discussion, it becomes necessary to conduct a study on the reasons that have led the people of the UAE to get addicted to fast food. The fact that fast food is delicious (Zafar et al., 2002) does not undermine its side-effects (implications) and zero nutritional value (Johnson, Sahu, & Saxena, 2012).

Literature Review

The literature referred for this study is a mix of one journal, one market analysis report, one scholarly paper, one news article, and one university publication. The variety of literature was selected in order to have views and opinions of past scholars and the current trends. Most of the literature is recent and so the information will further enhance the quality and relevance of the paper.

The first referred literature is a journal, titled “Consumer behaviour towards fast food”. The authors of this journal are Zafar, Abbasi, Choudhry, and Riaz. The authors conducted a survey (interview) with 90 participants. The findings of the survey indicated that a majority of the participants preferred fast food due to its time-saving capability and deliciousness. The results also gave an idea about the amount that the participants spent on fast food on a monthly basis.

The second referred literature is a market analysis report, titled “The United Arab Emirates consumer behaviour, attitudes and perceptions toward food products”. The market analysis was conducted by the International Markets Bureau in the year 2010. As the title of the report suggests, it has details about the perceptions of the UAE consumers about their food preferences. The report also contains interesting details about various demographic aspects.

The third referred literature is a scholarly paper, titled “Nutritional analysis of junk food”. The paper was compiled by Johnson, Sahu, and Saxena in the year 2012. The paper analyzes the nutritional aspect of junk food and the implications of consuming junk food. As such, it was necessary to include this paper in the literature review.

The fourth referred literature is a publication from the University of Pennsylvania. The article was published in the year 2012. It analyzes the UAE fast food market and reports that foreign companies (fast-food bigwigs) prefer the UAE market to their homelands when it comes to launching new products.

The fifth referred literature is a news article reported by Hala Khalaf. The news article was published in the UAE’s national newspaper, ‘The National’ in the year 2011. The report discusses about the results of a survey carried out on the eating habits of people.

Garber and Lustig are authors of a journal titled, “Is fast food addictive?” The journal is all about arguments and counter-arguments on the given topic. The authors inform the reader about the details of food constituents and their effect on human health (Garber & Lustig, 2011). Cardiff (2013) also has written on similar lines and confirms that fast food is hazardous for human health. Greviskes (2013) goes to the extent of comparing fast food addiction to that of heroin.

In a news article titled, “How to stop your UAE based child turning into a junk food junkie”, the reporter first tries to establish that parents are responsible for creating a liking for junk food among their children. Then, she discusses the ways that parents should adopt to make their children stay away from fast food (Lewis, 2013a).

In yet another news article titled, “Could food cravings be addiction”, the reporter argues whether craving for food could lead to addiction toward fast food. The reporter informs the reader about the effect of certain food ingredients on being addictive (Matthews, 2012)3.

Habib Toumi’s article titled, “High incomes and a taste for fast food and sugary drinks push UAE nationals into obesity club”, informs the reader about the implications of fast food and aerated drinks. The writer also feels that having high incomes is responsible for the inclination towards fast food and aerated drinks (Toumi, 2014).

Euromonitor International’s report titled, “Fast food in the United Arab Emirates”, is a consolidated report on the facts and figures of the fast food scenario in the UAE. The report includes interesting topics such as the current trends, the competitive landscape and the future prospects of the fast food sector (Euromonitor, 2013).

Moushumi Chaudhary, in her article titled, “UAE fast-food industry on threshold of fast growth”, gives her opinion about the increasing demand of fast food in the UAE. She feels that the future for the fast food sector is quite bright in the UAE (Chaudhary, 2005). In his book titled, “Fast food nation”, the author discusses the reasons why and how American fast food has brought the complete globe under its enchantment. (Schlosser, 2002).

An article titled, “Industry focus: Fast food in the UAE”, published in Arabian Business focuses on the current trends in fast food sector. The article also discusses about the hurdles in the expansion plans of fast food outlets. (Industry focus, 2012). Kristin Kirkpatrick, by way of her article titled, “6 ways the food industry is tricking you”, warns the consumers about the risks associated with junk food and how the companies are fooling the blindfolded consumers (Kirkpatrick, 2014).

The article titled, “The immediate effect fast food has on children” by Richard Lewis is an eye opener for both parents and children. Parents should abstain from giving in to their children’s demands of eating fast food. The article enlists the risks of being addict to fast food (Lewis, 2013b). Addiction of fast food can even result in the person being prone to hypertension (Ahmed, 2012). Addiction to fast food can be either chemical or emotional (Relfe, 2013). Relfe further claims that the risks of fast food can be more than what we are actually aware of. Relfe refutes the claim of fast food companies that obesity is caused due to excessive intake of calories. According to her, obesity is a result of the toxins present in fast food and other junk foods.

The article titled, “Comparative cost analysis of healthy cooking vs. eating fast food regularly” by Bankman compares the costs of both kinds of food and on the basis of the comparison, it is understood that fast food is costlier than home-cooked food (Bankman, 2014).

Summary and Conclusion

The referred literatures suggest that a majority of the people prefer fast food due to specific reasons. In order to attract their clients, the fast food outlets are adopting innovative ways such as ‘well trained staff’ so that the existing customers might be retained and a new customer base might be established. Making the ambience culturally compatible is another method adopted by such outlets. It is reported that not only people who eat fast food are prone to obesity but even the newborn babies of mothers who are addicted to fast food face this risk. The monetary consideration for eating fast food is limited to a specific segment of people; otherwise the affluent families are ready to pay exorbitant prices for eating tasty fast food in comfortable and luxurious surroundings. There is a mixed perception among people about the health effects of fast food. Even though the government is spreading health awareness related to fast food, the fast food sector is poised for a brilliant performance during the ensuing years.

Research Questions

  1. How far are advertisements responsible for pushing people towards addiction of fast food?
  2. Does the hectic life-style play any role in people becoming addicted to fast food?
  3. Do you feel that fast food is the main culprit of instances of obesity among people?
  4. Will awareness about the implications of fast food help in improving the health condition of people?
  5. To what extent are organizations such as FDA and UDSA responsible for the health effects of fast food?
  6. Can low fat fast food reduce the health risks?
  7. Can parents be instrumental in persuading their children to abstain from fast food?
  8. What role has fast food played in transforming the culture of the UAE?
  9. What are the transformations witnessed in the fast food culture in the UAE?
  10. What are the tactics adopted by fast food chains to attract the youth?
  11. Should fast food be banned in all the schools in the UAE?
  12. What will be the benefits of going ahead with such a ban?
  13. Do people consider the price while going for fast food?
  14. What are the measures that the UAE government is taking in order to reduce the health risks associated with fast food?
  15. Are such measures adequate in convincing the people to abstain from fast food?

This research is significant due to the fact that the UAE today is at a stage where people prefer fast food without knowing its implications. The government of the UAE is doing a lot for the economic prosperity of the country but at the same time, it is not taking any strong measures to stop the health hazards faced due to fast food. The most important factor is the awareness among the people about the implications of fast food. The government is doing its bit but the efforts are not enough.

References

Ahmed, B. (2012). Fast food’s addiction can cause you hypertension. Web.

Bankman. (2014). Comparative cost analysis of healthy cooking vs. Eating fast food regularly. Web.

Cardiff, E. (2013). Addictive ingredients in fast food and their effect on your body. Web.

Chaudhary, M. D. (2005). UAE fast-food industry on threshold of fast growth. Web.

Cheeseburger pizzas, designer French fries and a post-war cinnabon: Fast food’s booming Middle East market. (2012). Web.

Euromonitor. (2013). Fast food in the United Arab Emirates. Web.

Garber, A., & Lustig, R. (2011). Is fast food addictive? Current Drug Abuse Reviews. 4(3), 146-162. Web.

Greviskes, A. (2013). Fast food as addictive as heroin, study confirms. Web.

Industry focus: Fast food in the UAE. (2012). Web.

Johnson, S., Sahu, R., & Saxena, P. (2012). Nutritional analysis of junk food. Web.

Khalaf, H. (2011). Fast food’s low cost draws diners. Web.

Kirkpatrick, K. (2014). 6 ways the food industry is tricking you. Web.

Lewis, R. (2013a). How to stop your UAE based child turning into a junk food junkie. Web.

Lewis, R. (2013b). The immediate effect fast food has on children. Web.

Matthews, R. (2012). Could food cravings be addiction? Web.

Relfe, S. (2013). Junk food is addictive and is killing people. Web.

Schlosser, E. (2002). Fast food nation. England: Penguin Books. Web.

The United Arab Emirates consumer behaviour, attitudes and perception toward food products. (2010). Web.

Toumi, H. (2014). High incomes and a taste for fast food and sugary drinks push UAE nationals into obesity club. Web.

Zafar, I., Abbasi, S. S., Choudhry, A., & Riaz, A. (2002). Consumer behaviour towards fast food. Pak J. Food Sci, 12(3-4), 71-75. Web.

Appendix 1 – Separate Sheet

Sr. No. Student Articles Reference NOTE
1 M Consumer behaviour towards fast food. Authors: Zafar, I., Abbasi, S. S., Choudhry, A., & Riaz, A. Pak J. Food Sci, 12(3-4), 71-75.
2 M Fast food’s low cost draws diners. Reporter: Khalaf, H.
3 M Could food cravings be addiction? Author: Matthews, R.
4 K The United Arab Emirates consumer behaviour, attitudes and perception toward food products. Market analysis by International Market Bureau
5 K Is fast food addictive? Authors: Garber, A., & Lustig, R. Current Drug Abuse Reviews. 4(3), 146-162.
6 K High incomes and a taste for fast food and sugary drinks push UAE nationals into obesity club. Author: Toumi, H.
7 F Nutritional analysis of junk food. Authors: Johnson, S., Sahu, R., & Saxena, P.
8 F How to stop your UAE based child turning into a junk food junkie. Author: Lewis, R.
9 F Fast food in the United Arab Emirates. Author: Euromonitor
10 S Cheeseburger pizzas, designer French fries and a post-war cinnabon: Fast food’s booming Middle East market. A review by the University of Pennsylvania.
11 S The immediate effect fast food has on children. Author: Lewis, R.
12 S Junk food is addictive and is killing people. Author: Relfe, S.
13 M Addictive ingredients in fast food and their effect on your body. Author: Cardiff, E.
14 M Fast food as addictive as heroin, study confirms. Author: Greviskes, A.
15 K Comparative cost analysis of healthy cooking vs. Eating fast food regularly. Author: Bankman
16 K UAE fast-food industry on threshold of fast growth. Reporter: Chaudhary, M. D.
17 F Industry focus: Fast food in the UAE.
18 F 6 ways the food industry is tricking you. Author: Kirkpatrick, K.
19 S Fast food nation. Author: Schlosser, E. Penguin Books, England.
20 S Fast food’s addiction can cause you hypertension. Author: Ahmed, B.