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.”