The annual food orgy known as Super Bowl Sunday is nearly upon us, and fast food titans are scrambling for a slice of the action. Everyone from Pizza Hut (YUM) to Chipotle (CMG) is offering calorie-gorged deals for America’s day of couch-bound gluttony.
Pizza Hut’s decadent $19.99 Dinner Box carb fest contains roughly 6,000 calories worth of pizzas, breadsticks, and your choice of wings, stuffed pizza rollers, or pasta. That’s enough calories to satisfy the daily intake of at least two strapping men (not to mention enough sodium to meet the daily needs of nine). KFC, the “official sponsor of couchgating,” also has a $19.99 offer: the Game Day Bucket, packed with roughly 2,500 calories of chicken, hot wings, and Original Bites. (The Bucket wins the dubious honor of most calories delivered for the dollar, tracked in this graphic.)
Somewhere in the U.S., people will sit down to healthful—possibly even vegan or vegetarian—spreads, but veggies generally take the back seat on game day. “We’ve come to associate pizza and buckets of chicken wings with watching football,” says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI). “I don’t think it’s necessarily the case in other countries that watching sports is so closely associated with junk food—and it’s not just the Super Bowl.”
Wootan says advertisements probably play a big part in America’s sports-fueled junk food obsession. This year, Taco Bell, promoter of the Taco 12-pack, even panned veggies in a Super Bowl ad, sneering that bringing “veggies on game day is like punting on fourth and one—it’s a cop out—and secretly, people kind of hate you for it.” The fast food chain later pulled the ad and apologized after the CSPI and hundreds of people on Twitter protested that the last thing healthy fruits and vegetables need is to be the subject of attack ads. “We love vegetables,” said Rob Poetsch, a spokesman, in a statement issued by Taco Bell. “In fact, each year we serve our customers more than 45 million pounds of tomatoes, 122 millions of pounds of lettuce, seven million pounds of onions and 412 thousand pounds of cilantro. When we realized the ad was misconstrued, we sided with the vegetables and pulled it.”
“Advertising works,” says Wootan. “Just think of all the times you’re watching television, and you aren’t hungry when you sit down but after a few ads, you find yourself getting up to eat—and it doesn’t spur a craving for strawberries.” Good deals also contribute to the problem, she says: “Most of us have to worry about money, and so if we see these deals, you might end up getting a whole bucket of chicken when instead, you would have picked up something at the grocery store.”
You can’t just blame Super Bowl Sunday. “What happens in nutrition is that people say, ‘Well, I’m just gonna eat a lot of junk food at the Super Bowl; well, I’m just gonna eat a lot of junk food when I see a baseball game; and just when I go to the movie theater; and just when I go out to eat’—and before you know it, it adds up to a lifetime of junk food and calories and an epidemic of obesity,” says Wootan.
She adds: “If you had a great diet all year long and just splurged on your birthday and on the Super Bowl, you’d be fine.”