Food for thought: The connection between the economy and your health

MCCRACKEN COUNTY, KY — Do you need a place to grab a quick bite? Take exit 4 to Paducah, and you’ll find the restaurant hub of the Local 6 area. These restaurants and drive-through lanes stay busy.

They’re so busy, in fact, that in 2016 Paducah was called the fast food capitol of the nation. What does that say about our health?

Kentucky is seventh state in the nation for rate of obesity. Nearly 33 percent of us are overweight. Tennessee is No. 6. Missouri and Illinois are in the top 20 as well.

Now drill down to McCracken County, where 65 percent of adults are overweight or obese.  In Carlisle county, 80 of adults are overweight, and 73 percent of Graves County adults are overweight.

“Paducah has always been a really good food town,” franchise owner Jay Page said.

You’re probably familiar with the girl with the pigtails, the colonel, the golden arches, and the king. They’re staples in most american towns.

“We’re here to eat healthy, or healthier,” Tammy Dunaway said at Qdoba, one of Paducah’s newest establishments.

“The queso is worth the calories,” said Jenn Patel. Her friend Tammy said they’re trying to eat healthy, but with a little bit of queso. Aren’t we all?

The owner of Paducah’s Qdoba, Jay Page, said the place is a reflection of how the fast food industry is changing. “We kind of saw a trend in the restaurant business toward more people preferring their food be fresh versus things coming out of a can, things being pre-prepared.”

His family has owned restaurants and fast food chains in town since the 1950s. He calls this new venture fast casual. Page said they offer healthier options than traditional fast food, but the calories can add up quickly there too.

You can easily order a bowl at Qdoba that is over 1,500 calories, but you can also order a healthier option. I ordered a burrito bowl with black beans and pinto beans, no rice, pork, fajita vegetables, lettuce, pico de gallo, and then toped it off with a little bit of guacamole. It came out to 605 calories.

You can make fast food restaurants fit in to your diet with a little adjustment, but the obesity problem isn’t small, medium or large. Bariatric surgeon Dr. Anthony Davis said it is of epidemic proportions.

“We take eating for granted. It’s too convenient,” Davis said. “I like fast food. I do eat it, and having it once in a while isn’t an issue, but relying on it to feed your family and self is not a good thing.”

In Kentucky, 34 percent of children and teens are obese, according to Kids Count.

Davis said obesity does have something to do with what you are eating, but that’s not the only factor. “It is genetically related as well. Patients should first try to control the things that they can,” Davis said.

“They can’t control their genes, but they can control their behavior. You have two categories of people: those who suffer from obesity and those who do not. For those with obesity, it is not going to be that simple. For those who aren’t suffering with the disease, you can probably moderate your calories, increase your physical activity. That should help.”

He said you need to know what you’re eating.

“It’s funny, because when you go out to eat on a diet you’re like ‘I’m here to get a salad. I’m here to get a salad. I’m here to get a salad,'” Page said, but once you’re there. “I’ll order the cheese burger.” We’ve all done this.

Page said his restaurants provide nutritional information. Most restaurants do these days, but you have to actually use that information to make an intentional better choice for your health. That’s just food for thought.

Here is some advice from Davis about changing your eating habits.

  • Don’t drink while you eat. Davis said the liquid pushes the food down and makes your stomach think you are hungry for more.
  • Replace your soda with water.
  • Prepare most of your own food and eat out sparingly.

Davis said if your body mass index is 30 or more, you should see a doctor. Obesity is a disease, and you may need more help to get healthy.

You can find out more information about this story and others by following Leah Shields on Facebook and Twitter.

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