Be Choosy When Eating Out to Watch the Waistline
March 13, 2008—Most of us enjoy eating out on occasion but we often don’t consider the impact of restaurant choices on weight. According to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, communities that have a variety of restaurants, including both fast-food and sit-down, full-service options have slimmer citizens than communities dominated by fast food.
Fast-food restaurants have increased in popularity over the last two decades, and research has shown that frequently eating fast food may be associated with higher weight. However, less is known about the impact of full-service restaurants on people’s weight.
To further explore this issue, the authors of this study examined the relationship between the types of restaurants available in an area and the weight status of the surrounding community. They discovered that people who live in communities that have a greater number of full-service restaurants compared to fast-food restaurants were found to weigh less overall than people who live in communities dominated by fast food.
In addition to supporting previous findings that fast food restaurants encourage obesity, Neil Mehta, MSc, and Virginia Chang, MD, PhD, from the University of Pennsylvania observes, “This study goes beyond prior work in this area by showing that a high relative number of fast-food restaurants is also positively associated with weight status. This suggests that in a culture where eating out is common, the type of restaurant food chosen is important to determining weight status.”
The authors point out that people who seek healthier food choices are more likely to go to full-service restaurants rather than fast-food restaurants, but it is not clear whether people actually eat fewer calories (and more nutritious food) at full-service restaurants. Studies have shown that both types of restaurant meals contain similar amounts of total fat but full-service foods may have lower amounts of saturated fats.
To limit calories when dining out, consider ordering heart-healthy or weight-watcher options (often indicated by a symbol on the menu) which tend to be lower in calories and saturated fat, choosing smaller sizes, or sharing an entrée with a dinner companion in restaurants with large portions.
For those in a hurry who may be tempted by fast food, many groceries offer healthful salad bars and delis with easy options for busy people in need of a quick meal.
(Am J Prev Med 2008;34:127–33)
Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.
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