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Fast Food Restaurants Contribute to Overweight



I know that the headline to this week's Bite probably isn't news to you. Sure, too much fast food makes you fat. As a whole, fast foods tend to be calorie-dense, high in sodium and fat, and low in fiber: of course eating frequently at fast food restaurants is likely to make you fat. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have taken the "fast food makes you fat" rule of thumb one step further - by looking at the number and types of restaurants in a geographic area and the people who live there (Am J Prev Med 2008;34(2):127-133).

The researchers used data collected from two surveys: the first, a telephone survey, is known as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), which is an annual health survey of United States residents who are 18 or over. The second set of data, regarding types and locations of restaurants, came from the 2002 U.S. Economic Census.

The Body Mass Index, obesity status, and other health variables of the more than 714,000 included participants in the BRFSS were correlated with the number and types of restaurants in their area and then compared with other locations in the United States.

The results are very interesting. Those people who lived in areas with the highest total number of restaurants tended to have lower weights. The same was true for those whose areas had more full-service restaurants than fast-food restaurants. However, those who lived in areas with more fast-food restaurants than full-service restaurants tended to have higher weight.

The question, of course, is Why? The researchers theorize that those who choose to go to full-service restaurants may be looking for healthier foods. Or maybe that the foods served at full-service restaurants are less likely to be calorie-dense. (Anyone who's seen the bakery counter at their local Cheesecake Factory knows that's not necessarily true.)

What this means for you

Regardless, the fact remains that fast foods tend to be more calorie-dense and have more saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium than is appropriate for a healthy diet. Sure, I've listed the best choices at various fast food restaurants on the Dr. Gourmet website, but your best choice is still not eating at fast food restaurants at all.

First posted: January 30, 2008