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Fast food ease, taste outweigh fear of fat

| Thursday, July 29, 2010

You can buy a whole meal for about $3 at a fast-food restaurant.

At Wendy's, for example, a junior bacon cheeseburger is just a dollar. You can practically feel your arteries clogging as you consume it, but as they say, the price is right.

The price might be right, but the nutritional value of fast food usually is not. Did you know that junior bacon cheeseburger has 650 milligrams of sodium and 320 calories•

It probably contributes to the worsening obesity problem in our country. But what can you do to battle the bulge in the face of convenience•

The state of Wisconsin has an idea. Officials there recently announced a 10-year plan to fight obesity. Part of the proposal suggests that municipalities adjust zoning ordinances to keep new fast-food restaurants out of lower-income communities. The plan also would make it easier for poorer people to get access to healthier foods by allowing farmers markets to accept food stamps.

It's an interesting approach. Right now, obesity is tipping the scales as one of the top health problems in this country. Diabetes and certain forms of cancer have been linked to obesity. In Pennsylvania, 28.1 percent of the population is obese, according to the report "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2010." (That title, by the way, certainly seems to pour salt in the wound, doesn't it• And that definitely isn't healthy.)

According to Claudine Battisti, communications director with the state Health Department, Pennsylvania hasn't considered curbing the number of fast-food restaurants.

Not that it would make a difference. We've heard that song and dance before, haven't we• Salty fries are not healthy for us. What keeps us going back•

On Allegheny Avenue in the North Side, plenty of people go back. It might be the sort of neighborhood those Wisconsin officials would keep an eye on. There's a Wendy's, McDonald's and 7-Eleven -- in a row. All are busy on a Wednesday afternoon, and few patrons draw parallels between fast food and obesity.

Bob Bahl of Bridgeville, who was preparing to take a Wendy's food order back to co-workers at his office, said the idea to limit fast-food joints makes little sense to him.

"It's not the restaurant. People should be making different choices," Bahl said, noting the "fast" in fast food keeps him coming back.

Coming out of the McDonald's next door, Sam Williams agreed: "I don't think (limiting the number of fast-food restaurants) would fly here. You can just say, 'No, I don't want that.'"

"I've been heavy all my life," explained Andy Kernicky as he patted his belly with a smile. The North Side resident said most of his family is "big-boned," although he conceded that fast food might play a role in increased rates of obesity. For him, though, it's hard to beat the convenience and price.

"Ground beef costs $2.49 a pound at the grocery store," he said. "For the convenience and the value, you can't do that at home."

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