It's not whether you eat out, it's where you choose to dine that affects your waistline, new research suggests.
People who live in neighbourhoods with more fast-food restaurants are more likely to be obese than are people who live near more "full-service" restaurants, a new study has found.
"A lot of people have tried to understand why the obesity epidemic has come up, and some people hypothesise that eating out more might have something to do with it," said Dr Virginia Chang, senior author of the study and assistant professor of medicine and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "Our findings suggest that eating out per se is not necessarily bad."
Previous studies have implicated eating out as one factor contributing to the obesity problem.
Portions bigger when eating out
"Eating in restaurants is a dangerous game," said Mireille Guiliano, author of the best-selling book 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 research had focused on state-level data, the new study, published in the February 2008 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 US adults. Restaurant data came from the 2002 US Economic Census.
Residents of areas with more fast-food restaurants and a higher ratio of fast-food to full-service restaurants were heavier than people from neighbourhoods with more full-service restaurants. Restaurants were considered "fast food" if patrons paid before 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.
Fast food vs full-service restaurants
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.
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 starters instead of a starter and a main course, 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 is just too high." – (HealthDay News, January 2008)
Junk food craving from mom?
More calories in healthy food