Simply Being Near Fast Food Is Unhealthy

The one true king in the world of advertising is views. Sure, having a recognizable mascot, clever slogan, and a 30 second comedy short that makes dads across America howl at the TV are all well and good. But none of that matters if people don't see them. And if they don't see them, they can't be coerced into spending their money.

See, lots of us are prone to looking for ways to get out of making decisions if we can help it. If we want to listen to music, we press shuffle on our iPod or turn on the radio. If we want to watch something, we flip through channels aimlessly and see what's on. (The necessity of knowing what you want to watch ahead of time is what makes Netflix occasionally maddening.) As far as what we decide to eat? A lot of times that's a decision based simply on whatever is closest.

The problem with that, however, is that we're pretty much always close to fast food. And that proximity is making us unhealthy.

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That's the finding from a new study out of Britain that looked at how close being near fast food establishments affects a person's health. To find out, researchers examined not only how many fast food places are near a person's home, but also how many are near their work and the route that's used to commute. After that, they questioned people on their eating habits and cross-referenced the two sets of data. Their conclusion:

[P]eople with higher takeaway food exposure had a higher body mass index and were more likely to be obese.

Specifically, it found that those with the highest exposure to fast food ate roughly half a serving of French fries per week more than those without exposure. That may not seem like a lot, but those 36 extra servings of fries add up. If they happened to be from McDonald's, that would be an extra 684 grams of fat and an extra 9,576 milligrams of sodium a year. (Not to mention ingesting whatever other creepy ingredients they have inside of them.) All because there happens to be a lot of fast food places near someone.

While the authors of the study understandably see this as problematic, they also see a possible solution in our inherently lazy decision-making process, a quirk in our minds can be exploited for good:

Instead of restricting takeaway food, we should seek to transform it. Healthy takeaway food should not only be available, it should be as visible, tasty, and cheap as unhealthy food. Healthy eating should, in fact, be the default option.

Which is certainly a great idea, but without some kind of government guidance, it's about as unlikely as Chevron giving up the oil game for solar power. The reality is that we have to guard ourselves from falling into the trap of simply eating whatever's closest. With that in mind, here's a trio of methods that could help:

1. Use Yelp at Rest Stops

It's an unwritten rule that long road trips are excuses to eat like an idiot. You're trying to save time and are out of your comfort zone, so eating decisions are made by scanning the signs of what's available in those highway-adjacent corporate mini-neighborhoods, and picking one. Don't. Instead, take a moment to go on Yelp and see what else is nearby. Usually, there are better, less disgusting options just a few minutes down the road.

2. Keep Water On Hand

Remember that study from a few years ago saying you could lose weight by drinking water before meals? That concept works because you're tricking your body into thinking it's full, a "body hack" that can come in handy when you're super hungry and willing to eat the first thing you see. Gulp down some water to calm the urgency so you can make an eating decision when you're more rational.

3. Pack Your Lunch the Night Before

Going out to lunch during a work day is more than just about food. It's about getting out of the office and away from those co-workers for a few minutes. So, bringing your lunch to work is a drag. Putting it together when you've just woken up and still blurry eyed is even worse. It's not surprising, then, plenty of us pack nothing and "figure it out" when lunchtime arrives. Invariably, this means going to whatever food court's around and stuffing down heaping helpings of fried meats. Fix that by figuring out and packing the next day's lunch the night before.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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