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The link between obesity and eating out

Posted on September 7, 2018 at 1:05 PM

The more you eat out, the more likely you are to be overweight, say obesity experts who have studied the link between eating out and obesity, which are both on the rise.

A third of the calories Americans eat come from restaurants, including fast-food franchises, deli and take out, which is almost double what it was 30 years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For the average consumer, eating one meal away from home each week translates to roughly two extra pounds a year. More than half of adults eat out two or more times a week, and 12 percent eat out more than seven times a week. As a result, the pounds are adding up.

Why do Americans choose to eat out? They cite that they have less time for cooking, longer commutes, more households where both adults work, poorer cooking skills and many more options for meals out. How many more calories a person consumes out depends on the meal. A consumer's weight also plays into how many calories they consume while eating out. For the overweight/ obese individuals, an away-from-home meal added on average 1200 calories a day versus similar food group meals portioned and prepared with health in mind.

Wrong kind of calories

Eating out tends to pack on the pounds more than dining at home. Portion sizes are larger, and restaurant foods tend to be higher in sodium, fats and calories and those calories tend to be the kind that promotes obesity. Foods can be fat promoting or fat fighting and the nutrition scientists all agreed that eating any meal out is more likely to be a fat storage promoter.

"The calories we eat out, for a variety of hormonal and metabolic reasons actually cause more weight gain," said the director of research and education for Florida Hospital Celebration Health's metabolic medicine and surgery institute. Obesity-promoting foods include fat and sodium laden meats, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, processed grains and trans fats; all cheap ways that restaurants add flavor. These foods lead to changes in blood sugar that cause cells to store food energy rather than burn it. On average, a commercially prepared breakfast provides fewer fiber rich choices, while most dinners away from home include vegetables that are prepared with extra fats and more starch options; according to the USDA economic researchers. The study also noted that restaurant diners eat less well. One meal out typically lowers overall diet quality enough to shift the average adult's diet from fair to poor on the Healthy Eating Index. The index is the tool the USDA uses to measure diet quality. When people eat out they tend to make poorer nutritional choices partly because people often associate eating out as a special occasion, or a time to splurge even if eating out has become a routine.

Paying with their health

As Americans have looked to restaurants to deliver them from cooking, commercially prepared choices have gotten savvier in luring customers. One way is by super-sizing portions, which appeals to America's appetite. For example, a bagel 20 years ago averaged three inches in diameter and had 140 calories. Today's bagels average six inches and contain 250 to 550 calories. Studies repeatedly have shown that consumers eat more when portions are larger. Of course, eating at home most of the time is the most likely solution while eating at home doesn't always equal eating healthy, it increases the odds. When you cook for yourself, you have more control.

Take Responsibility: When all is said and done you must take responsibility for your own health and wellness. Restaurants provide a great service, but in the end, you need to make decisions based on the importance you assign to your health and weight management goals. Bottom Line: Limit eating out to an occasional treat, not as a consistent lifestyle choice. “It is not what we do every once in a while that defines us, but rather what we do consistently.”

These are the resources that provided this information and shaped my opinion: Florida Hospital Celebration Health's metabolic medicine and surgery institute, USDA, Overeating in America: association between restaurant food consumption and body fatness in healthy adult men and women ages 19 to 80. Obes Res 1999;7:564–71.2010 Am J Epidemiol. 2003 Jul 1; 158(1):85-92.

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