According to research published in the British Medical Journal, people exposed to more "takeaway food outlets" (or, as we know it, fast food) around their home, place of business or on their commute tend to eat more fast food and have a higher incidence of obesity. People who encounter fewer fast food restaurants are less likely to eat as much fast food and tend to have lower BMIs.
"Our study provides new evidence that there is some kind of relationship between the number of takeaway food outlets we encounter, our consumption of these foods, and how much we weigh," Dr. Thomas Burgoine, one of the researchers, told The Guardian.
The researchers analyzed data from 5,442 adults between the ages of 29 and 62 in Cambridgeshire, UK. The participants provided their home and work addresses and their commuting preferences, and they self-reported their consumption of foods like pizza, burgers, fried foods and chips. They also provided self-measured assessments of their body mass.
The study found that the more times a person passed by fast food outlets, the more likely he or she was to have a higher BMI. Individuals who had the greatest number of exposures to fast food had, on average, a BMI 1.21 times higher than people who passed by these places least often.
Researchers also found that the individuals most exposed to fast food tended to eat 5.7 grams more of it per day than the least exposed group. Although that may not sound like much, it adds up to nearly 50 grams of fast food—the equivalent of about half of a small order of McDonald's French fries—per week. This means that people who pass by fast food restaurants more regularly eat roughly the equivalent of 26 more orders of small fries in a year than people who do not. Those same individuals were more than twice as likely to be obese than the individuals who had the fewest exposures.
Proximity to fast food stores isn't enough to make you fat. But it definitely makes it more likely that you will eat more fast food, which will probably lead to more flab.
For the researchers seeking to curb the spread of obesity in the United Kingdom, one proposed solution is to limit the amount of fast food available in and around workplaces. For you, the solution might be to wake up a few minutes earlier and take the long way to work or school. Your waistline might thank you.
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