This Is What a Fast Food Lover’s Pharmacy Looks Like

This Japanese pharmacy has created a unique concept that wants to improve the health and daily lives of fast food lovers.

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Sep 23 2016, 5:00pm

fast-food-pharmacist

All photos courtesy of Kaibutsu.

For a few days this past spring, wedged into the hipster streets of Tokyo's Harajuku district, was a conspicuous storefront boasting a large orange cross above the words "For FREE." Beyond the window, sleek white walls with backlit glass shelves held a phalanx of orange medicine bottles. Inside, a pharmacist awaited visitors.

"To fast food lovers, who are also health conscious," the store's slogan read. "Don't worry! Just take our supplements after eating your fast food."

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"Fast Food Aid, a supplement shop for fast food lovers" was the creation of design studio Kaibutsu. "At first, people should think the shop is recommending that they take supplements instead of change what they're eating," explains Ikkyu Sato, creative director of Kaibutsu. In reality, the campaign was meant to stoke a conversation around fast food and rising rates of urban malnutrition.

Those who tentatively entered were asked to supply a receipt from their latest fast food meal and to answer a few questions about their dietary habits. The professional nutritionist, outfitted in a lab coat, with petri dish and tweezers in hand, would then pluck multicolored pills from stainless steel buckets—labeled Vitamin B2, Calcium, Folic Acid, Fiber, and Vitamin E— one after another. "Vitamin C," the nutritionist would note, "is contained in vegetables," before dropping the pill into a dish.

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A receipt of ramen would result in a pill bottle of 22 tablets meant to supplement the missing calcium, beta-carotene, vitamin B6, and more. Pizza would earn you 24 tablets, a hamburger, 20. The patients looked on in horror as the pills piled into the ocherous bottles.

"Our mission was to trick and catch the attention of those who love fast food," states Ikkyu Sato, "and make them realize that many fast foods lack the nutrients they need. The best part was watching the customer's shock; they often had no words to say, facing the massive amount of tablets that they should take."

It may seem like a bizarre campaign for Tokyo's luxury fashion district. After all, do these kids really need to learn about nutrition? As it turns out, yes, many of them do.

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Of the people who entered Fast Food Aid, 85.6 percent were considered "at risk" for what the campaign calls a "new type of malnutrition," amplified by the rising consumption of high-calorie, low nutrition foods. (Think: a Big Mac, Chalupa or Chicken Fries.)

Today, Japan accounts for 33 percent of Asia-pacific fast food consumption, according to MarketLine's 2012 Industry Profile. The International Business Times notes that Japan is McDonald's second-largest market, just after the United States.

In correlation, 23 percent of the Japanese population in Japan is now classified as overweight, where 18.2 percent of children under the age of five are considered overweight. Nearly five times as many children suffer from stunting due to lack of proper nutrients in their youths.

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To capitalize on the public issue, Kaibutsu was hired by the Japanese fast food chain, Dohtonbori to reframe the public perception of okonomiyaki, a vegetable-based savory Japanese pancake, as "tasty healthy."

"As the first act, we decided to use 100 percent domestically grown vegetables," says Ikkyu Sato. "As a second act, the client wanted us to fix a misunderstanding about okonomiyaki, and change the perception from fast food to fast 'healthy' food." At the end of a Fast Food Aid visit, people were handed a pill bottle with a small piece of paper inside, which informed them that if they eat okonomiyaki, they don't need any supplements. Then, of course, there was a coupon so they could head immediately to the closest Dohtonbori.

Cynicism aside, the campaign catalyzed a relevant conversation not just for Japan, but for the world. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute's Global Nutrition Report, obesity rates rose "in every single country," between 2010 and 2014, and one in 12 adults worldwide now has Type 2 diabetes. "The coexistence of nutritional problems associated with extreme deprivation and obesity is the real face of malnutrition," said Dr. Corinna Hawkes, a co-author of the report, in a statement. Globally, two billion people suffer from insufficient vitamins and minerals and 1.9 billion adults qualify as overweight or obese.

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"In some cases, children who are obese are malnourished because they are consuming the wrong types of foods—foods that are calorie dense, but nutritionally poor. It is called 'hidden hunger,'" writes Barbara Bush, CEO of Global Health Corps, and Hugh Welsh, president of DSM North America. Over half of kids in the US are deficient in vitamins D and E, and more than a quarter lack calcium, magnesium or vitamin A. "This can result in a compromised immune system, stunted physical growth, reduced mental ability, chronic disease and even death," note Bush and Welsh.

Here in the US, one in three adolescents eats fast food every day. The average American gets 37 percent of their calories from fast food. Seventy percent of adults over 20 years old are overweight or obese. And issues of malnutrition are becoming part of the common conversation as it relates to health, hunger, and obesity.

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So the question becomes: Gimmick or not, when is Dohtonbori heading stateside?

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