When it comes to avoiding unhealthy food, it might be that out of sight means out mind.
The more fast-food joints people encounter around their homes and workplaces, the likelier they are to be obese, according to a study published Thursday.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge found that the people who are most exposed to fast food were almost twice as likely to be obese as those who were least exposed.
The idea seems commonsense. "But up to this point, it's really just been based on a hunch," says Thomas Burgoine, the study's lead author and a research associate at the U.K.'s Center for Diet and Activity Research.
The researchers surveyed nearly 5,500 adults who live in Cambridgeshire County, England, about their eating habits. They also looked the number of fast food and takeout joints around the participants' homes, commuting routes and workplaces. The results appear in the British Medical Journal.
While the findings suggest an association between people's food environments and their chances of being overweight, they don't prove that one directly causes the other. But, Burgoine tells The Salt, the research does suggest that policies restricting the number of fast-food joints in a neighborhood might be on the right track.
For example, since 2008, Los Angeles has had a moratorium on the opening of new fast-food outlets in South L.A., a neighborhood that suffers from alarmingly high rates of poverty and obesity.
Burgoine says that the number of fast-food restaurants in many neighborhoods, both in the U.S. and the U.K., have skyrocketed over the past few years.
"As I was doing the research, I really got to thinking about my food exposure and my travel from where I live on one side of Cambridge to the other," says Burgoine, whose research focuses on the interaction between obesity and environment.
And the dining options around our workplaces can be especially significant, Burgoine says. A quick burger or takeout is especially appealing to people rushing to feed themselves during a limited lunch break. The study found that, on average, people were exposed to 48 percent more fast food at work than at home.
Of course, access to fast food is only one reason that people might reach for unhealthy foods. Studies have shown that everything from people's income and upbringing to the layout of their local supermarket can affect their choices.
But the researchers found that the risk of obesity increased with the density of fast-food joints, even after controlling for demographic factors like age, income and education, and the amount of calories that participants burned through physical activity.
Still, this study doesn't show whether limiting the number of fast-food restaurants in a neighborhood will affect people's risk of obesity in the long term. It also doesn't look at whether the availability of healthier choices played a role.
"Changing the food environment, even with evidence like this, isn't likely to be the answer by itself," Burgoine says. "But it might be one part of a wider solution."
Our guests today are PHOX in the SXSW portion of our Sense of Place visit to Austin. The band members have done an amazing job of describing themselves on Facebook: "PHOX is a bunch of friends from the Midwestern circus hamlet Baraboo, Wisc., a place where kids often drink poisoned groundwater and become endowed mutants. They make music that straddles Feist and Monty Python." Their debut is coming on Partisan Records in June.
Our guests on the SXSW portion of our Sense of Place visit to Austin are the members of Kins. They're a band that seems to like the southern coast of whatever landmass they're on — originally from Melbourne, Australia, their home base is now Brighton, England.
Their sound has grown in a more electronic direction in a very organic way, and that's had a major effect on their songwriting. Their self-titled debut, released last year, has actually made more of an impact here in the States than in either the U.K. or Australia. We're live with them at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin during SXSW.
It seems hardly a sentence is spoken in Berlin that doesn't have an American English word in it.
One word that especially grates - and I confess to a certain bias, having learned German as a toddler when it wasn't so Americanized — is a word pronounced "sogh-ee" - or as Americans say it, "sorry."
'Sogh-ee' your package is late.
'Sogh-ee' your hot water is off.
'Sogh-ee' we can't help you.
Anatol Stefanowitsch, an English linguistics professor at the Free University of Berlin, says it makes sense that many German businesses have adopted that word.
"I mean, 'sorry' is quite a useful way of apologizing because it doesn't commit you to very much. It's very easy to say 'sorry' The closest equivalent would be Entschuldigung, which is 'I apologize,' " Stefanowitsch says. "That's really like admitting that you've done something wrong, whereas with saying 'sorry,' you could also just be expressing empathy: 'I'm so sorry for you, but it has nothing to do with me.'"
Sorry is one of more than 10,000 American words Germans have borrowed since 1990. Language experts here say English is the main foreign language that has influenced German over the past six decades. This cultural infusion is pervasive, with English used by journalists, by scientists and even at the highest levels of government.
"Germany doesn't really have a very purist attitude to language, unlike France where you have an academy whose task it is to find French alternatives for borrowings, or if there is a new technology that needs to be named, then the academy will find a name," Stefanowitsch says.
Even purely domestic enterprises like the German rail system are getting into the English game. Christian Renner, waiting at Berlin's main station for a train home to Frankfurt, says it's useful to know English words if you want to find a waiting area.
"I'm not sure if calling it a 'lounge' is better than using the German word 'warteraum,'" Renner says. "I guess it's more modern or hip."
Also confusing to some German passengers is the word for the main ticket "center" instead of the German word "zentrum."
To some language experts like Holger Klatte, the widespread Americanization of German is problematic. He is the spokesman for the German Language Society, which has 36,000 members worldwide.
"Languages do tend to affect one another, but the influence of English in Germany is so strong that Germans are having a hard time advancing their own vocabulary," Klatte says.
Klatte says that can be a problem for Germans who may not know any English.
"The Second World War and Nazi times have led Germans to downplay the importance of their language," he says. "Unlike the French, Finns and Poles, they promote their languages a lot more than we do."
Stefanowitsch believes this linguistic angst - a word that migrated from German to English — is overblown. He says a quarter of all German words are borrowed from other languages. That's more than what's found in Mandarin Chinese but far less than the 40 to 80 percent seen in English, he says.
Plus Germans integrate the words they borrow — for example the suffix "gate," as in Watergate — which was voted last year's Anglicism of the year in Germany. Stefanowitsch says it's been used, among other things, to describe the NSA spying scandal on the German chancellor as "Merkel-gate."
"Borrowing doesn't mean that a language loses its vitality. It's an addition of creativity. No language has ever disappeared because it borrowed words," Stefanowitsch says.
But he says there are pitfalls to overdoing Americanized German.
Take, for example, the word "handy," which is what Germans call their cell phones. Stefanowitsch says people here assume it's an English word, and it may have come from the word handheld to distinguish it from car phones when cellular technology was relatively new.
He says the danger to such made-up words is that Germans could end up using them when trying to speak actual English.
More American English Words Germany Has BorrowedBaby — to refer to an infant Campen — to camp Computer Cool Downloaden — as to download on a computer Party — as in a festivity Seifenoper — literally translated means soap opera Sexy Team — as in a sports team Teenager Wellness — to refer to a spa
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