Portions -- not fast food -- may lead to wider waistline, study shows

Feb 02, 2009 By Mike Hughlett

With all the finger-pointing at fast food as a factor in America's obesity epidemic, you'd think people would be fatter where the supply of restaurants is greater--that is, neighborhoods teeming with burger joints, chicken shacks and so on.

But according to Northwestern University finance professor David Matsa, you would be wrong - and that has implications for government policy.

Matsa, along with Michael Anderson at the University of California-Berkeley, this month unveiled a study, "Are Restaurants Really Supersizing America?" - a nod to "Super Size Me," a 2004 documentary about a man who ate only McDonald's food for a month.

Matsa and Anderson acknowledge there's a well-known body of research showing that the frequency of eating at restaurants is correlated with greater accumulations of body fat. But is an abundant supply of restaurants actually causing fat levels to mushroom?

To answer that, the professors measured the restaurant habits and obesity levels of people who live near interstate highway exits and entrances in rural areas. Here, in order to serve travelers, restaurant supply often greatly outstrips local demand.

Matsa and Anderson compared restaurant consumers who lived zero to 5 miles from an interstate to those who lived 5 to 10 miles away.

They found that people who lived right off the interstate indeed ate much more often at restaurants than those who lived farther away. But using a battery of databases, Matsa and Anderson concluded that denizens of interstate towns were no fatter than folks who lived just a few miles away.

For obesity data, the professors turned to an ongoing, large-scale telephone survey of health behavior conducted by the Centers for Disease Control.

Matsa said the findings indicate government policies aimed at restricting restaurants - a ban on new fast-food outlets in a portion of Los Angeles, for example - may not work.

People who eat more at restaurants simply may eat more generally, including at home, Matsa and Anderson said. If costs are added to restaurant meals through restrictions like putting extra taxes on fattening food or making diners drive farther to find a fast-food joint, restaurant patrons may simply shift to sources of cheap calories elsewhere, they said.

___

(c) 2009, Chicago Tribune.
Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at www.chicagotribune.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Explore further: How drinking behavior changes through the years

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Dutch Windwheel draws energy innovations

Feb 17, 2015

The backers of the Dutch Windwheel leave few superlatives behind. The most innovative 'windmill' in the world. A showcase for clean technology. Accelerator for renewable energy. A future icon for The Netherl ...

Bacteria's hidden traffic control

Feb 08, 2015

Not unlike an urban restaurant, the success of a bacterial cell depends on three things: localization, localization and localization. But the complete set of controls by which bacteria control the movement of proteins and ...

Audio tour app takes Groupon founder on new journey

Feb 03, 2015

Two years after his ouster as Groupon's CEO, Andrew Mason is embarking on a new entrepreneurial journey selling unconventional audio tours of major cities on a new iPhone app called Detour.

Recommended for you

How drinking behavior changes through the years

6 hours ago

In the UK, frequent drinking becomes more common in middle to old age, especially amongst men, according to research published in the open access journal, BMC Medicine. Doctors are seeing a growing number ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.