Eating Out Does not Mean Weight Gain and Obesity

Fast FoodA new study of eating habits and obesity was carried out by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. The study found, eating out doesn’t mean gaining excess weight, the thing is, where you eat and in general – where you live. If one lives in the neighborhood with many fast food restaurants they are more likely to gain excess weight and become obese. And, vice versa, those living near to full-service restaurants are not in the high-risk group and tend to be thinner.

Obesity Epidemic in the United States

The study answers the question, why more and more Americans suffer from obesity, so that it has become an epidemic. Some hypothesize, the more one eats out, the more weight they gain. But the study findings show, that eating out isn’t bad and doesn’t necessarily lead to obesity. The obesity epidemic has indeed come up in the United States. Look at the terrific facts: two-thirds of adults are now considered overweight and about one-third is categorized as obese.

More Americans Become Obese Every Year

Previous studies have implicated eating out as one factor contributing to the spread, and Americans are patronizing restaurants more than ever. In 1940, Americans spent about 15 percent of their food dollars at restaurants, compared to more than 40 percent in 2005. And, in 2005, fast-food restaurants captured about 30 percent of the eating-out budget, versus only about 12 percent in 1960, the study authors said. Probably not coincidentally, only about 7 percent of U.S. adults were obese in 1940.

Eating out Is Dangerous for Your Weight

“Eating in restaurants is a dangerous game,” said Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat. “You have no control. You don’t know what the chef put in, whether it’s a lot of salt and way above the daily requirements. That’s one challenge, but also the portions. In many, many restaurants, the portions are huge.”

While previous researched had focused on state-level data, the new study, published in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, focuses more specifically on the county level. The study authors looked at responses from more than 700,000 people participating in five years of an annual telephone survey of U.S. adults. Restaurant data came from the 2002 U.S. Economic Census.

Study Findings

Residents of areas with more fast-food restaurants and a higher ratio of fast-food to full-service restaurants were heavier than people from neighborhoods with more full-service restaurants. “People who live in areas with more full-service restaurants do tend to be thinner,” Chang said. Restaurants were considered “fast food” if patrons paid before eating. In “full-service” establishments, patrons paid after eating.

The study pointed out that it’s not clear if people actually consume fewer calories at full-service restaurants, or if individuals choose full-service restaurants because they offer healthier foods. One study that compared “fast food” with food from full-service establishments found that meals from both contained similar amounts of total fat, but that full-service foods had lower amounts of saturated fats and higher levels of cholesterol and sodium.

How to Eat Less

For those fond of eating out, Guiliano recommends the “50 percent solution,” meaning eat only half of what’s on the plate. Or order two appetizers, share a dish and split dessert. “You have to be a little bit savvy and know yourself and know how to plan,” she said. “You shouldn’t feel you should deprive yourself. You can have a little bit of everything. The French way is more about small portions and variety. Learn to not go overboard, because the price to pay is just too expensive.”


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