Eating Out

Eating Out

A quick search of scientific literature yields nearly half a million references to fast food and obesity. Various proposals have surfaced to address the problem of fast food, including a ban on new fast-food restaurants in South Los Angeles enacted in 2008. (It accomplished exactly nothing.) So, what if fast food is no better or worse than the food you consume when eating out anywhere else?

That, in fact, is the finding of a new study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Ruopeng An analyzed data collected from 2003 to 2010 for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. He compared the nutritional qualities of food consumed at home to food consumed at fast food and full service restaurants and concluded:

Both fast-food and full-service restaurant consumption were associated with excess calorie intake and, in general, poorer diet quality. A comprehensive policy intervention is warranted to target American’s overall dining-out behavior rather than fast-food consumption alone.

It’s worth noting that these data are based on self-reports. And for measuring food consumption, self-reports are not very reliable. But these data certainly suggest that people eat more calories, more saturated fat, and more sodium when they eat out than they do at home — regardless of whether it’s fast food or not.

So nutrition policies that target fast food in isolation should be regarded with caution. Real evidence for what works is needed. Anecdotes and uncontrolled observations to support our suspicions wind up making everyone look foolish in the long run.

Click here to read the study and here to read more from Reuters.

Eating Out, photograph © Alexander Boden / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


July 20, 2015