Spring 2016

Obesity Trigger

Restaurant meals pack a whopping number of calories

Previous Next

Illustration: Erin Farley

Something like two-thirds of American adults are overweight, and the way they eat when they step out for a meal may be partly to blame, scientists have concluded.

Researchers at Tufts determined that 92 percent of American restaurant meals contain excess calories—enough to make you fat, if eating out is a regular thing. The study examined meals at 123 restaurants in Boston, San Francisco and Little Rock, Arkansas, between 2011 and 2014. Even without drinks, appetizers and desserts, single-meal servings exceeded the recommended level pretty much all the time. The worst culprits were American, Chinese and Italian restaurants, which had mean counts of 1,495 calories per meal for the main course.

Study author William Masters, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, points out that the findings don’t carry equal implications for everyone. “Women typically have a lower caloric requirement than men,” he notes. “Women, while dining out, typically have to be more vigilant.”

Susan Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Lab at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, has some sympathy for people eyeing an overloaded plate and struggling not to eat it all. “More than 100 years ago, the Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov received the first Nobel Prize awarded for integrated systems physiology for discovering the ‘cephalic phase of digestion,’ which is basically a mechanism designed to make us hungry and tempted when there is available food for the taking,” she says.

“All we have to do is see and smell food, and our sympathetic nervous system revs up, insulin secretion drops blood glucose and our stomach relaxes—the goal of these physiological changes being to prepare us to eat all the food within reach,” she told a reporter from munchies.vice.com, a website devoted to food. The study appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Top Stories

The Gift

Over the past 30 years, the live-donor liver transplant program at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center has treated more patients than any comparable program in the country. One of those patients had his life saved thanks to a donation by his son, a Tufts medical student. Here, in their own words, is the story of that experience

Always the New Kid

My life as a minority of one has made me stronger and inspired me in ways I never could have imagined

Converging on Breast Cancer

Tufts launches a multipronged assault on the disease

The Alzheimer’s Hope

First, neuroscientist Philip Haydon made himself an expert in a little-known area of brain science. Now he is testing a revolutionary new approach that shows great promise for the treatment of this dread modern disease

Editor's Picks

Anatomy of a Magazine Cover

Artist Davide Bonazzi talks about how he developed concepts to illustrate Phil Haydon’s Alzheimer’s research

Assault on the Opioid Crisis

Massachusetts medical schools confront a growing public health problem 

Big Road Blues

Living near a highway can be bad for your health in a million small ways

Dockside Medicine

Born into a lobstering family, I worry about their well-being in a special way 

Obesity Trigger

Restaurant meals pack a whopping number of calories

Resistance Fighter

Longtime faculty member Stuart Levy has spent a lifetime studying mechanisms of antibiotic resistance and crusading to abolish the use of antibiotics in animal feed