Dining-out Danger?

We’re all familiar with the old saying “you are what you eat,” but a new study suggests it may be more of a case of you are where you eat.

According to research in February’s American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the mix of restaurants in an area is an important indicator of body mass index (BMI – which admittedly is a near useless metric) and thus your risk of obesity.

For the study, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania analyzed data on 714,054 people participating in the 2002-2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and contrasted it to restaurant data from the 2002 U.S. Economic Census. Restaurants included in the data were then divided into two categories: fast food, defined as restaurants pay up-front for their food order, and full service, where individuals pay after dining.

According to the analysis – which included 544 counties, or about 75% of the U.S. population – areas with high fast-food restaurant density or a higher ratio of fast-food restaurants to full-service restaurants were associated with higher BMIs and a higher risk of obesity. By contrast, full-service restaurants were associated with more healthful eating and thus a lower individual weight status.

Although the researchers say it is not yet clear whether dining in full-service restaurants prompts patrons to consume fewer calories, they say that the study underscores the widely-held belief that fast-food restaurants “contribute to obesogenic environments.”

via MedPage Today

coda Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

The Poor Body

Calorie Information Wars

DietHack: The Slow Food Movement

Subscribe to Mark’s Daily Apple feeds

About the Author

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

7 thoughts on “Dining-out Danger?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Isn’t this a really shady reason to assume any causality? It seems much more likely that fast food restaurants are concentrated in poorer neighborhoods while full-service dining is more prevalent where wealthier people live. Unless that’s being accounted for in the data, this just seems like another framing of what we already know – poorer people are fatter.

  2. I touched on this article over on my blog a few days ago here. My conclusion was much as surplusj has already pointed out. It’s more likely an income effect, not a difference in the health aspects of the food. Wealthier people will have more full-service restaurants nearby and wealthier people tend to be slimmer than poor people. This is likely another case of correlation not equaling causation.

    Scott Kustes
    Modern Forager

  3. Yeah you can’t really say fast food restaraunts “contribute to obesegenic environments.” Big selection bias problem here – if you put a dine-in restaraunt in place of fast food restaraunts in poorer communities, people are not going to shrug and start paying $100 to dine out as opposed to $20. Instead they’ll buy microwavable high-fat junk that saves them the need to cook, and fits within their budget. To presume that, but for the presence of a McDonald’s one block over, people would be eating broccoli is a gross error.

  4. These kinds of headlines and studies drive me nuts. Most of the general public does not understand that correlation does not mean causation. Furthermore, the title of the article leads one to believe that they have found a causitive explanation, which of course they have not – not even close. The information borders on useless.

    Buy hey, if you use a term like “obesogenic environments” you must know what you are talking about. 😉