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How Fast Food Makes You Poor

It's easy to see why people assume eating at a fast-food joint is cheaper than whipping up something healthy at home.

As the cost of produce continues to climb, so does the number of chains offering value menu deals. While there's no denying that the upfront cost difference is vast, recent research tells us that opting for fast food instead of healthier meals can actually cost you more money in the long run—in more ways than one.

For starters, simply walking by a fast-food chain reduces the odds you'll save your hard-earned cash. It will also make you more apt to make irresponsible, snap financial decisions, says University of Toronto researchers. To come to this finding, research participants were asked to pick one of two cash rewards: The first monetary reward would be delivered the next day, while the other, slightly bigger stack of cash that was up for grabs wouldn't be delivered until the following week. Interestingly enough, those who were asked to make this decision while standing near a fast-food joint were 40 percent more likely to pick the smaller, speedier payout than those who were questioned near a sit-down restaurant.

And if that wasn't freaky enough, studies also show that it's extremely difficult to eat reasonable portions of greasy, caloric fast foods, which can cause obesity—a condition that carries a slew of medical costs. What makes it so difficult to put your fork down? Scientists say that seeing the combination of red and yellow—the colors found on both BK's and Micky D's logos—increases hunger. Those colors suddenly don't seem so random, now do they? Although you may not be surprised to hear that adding weight to your frame can make your wallet lighter, when you look at the actual numbers, the impact is staggering. While one study published in the journal Health Affairs found that obese Americans spend $1,429 more on medical costs than their healthy-weight counterparts, other findings say that figure could actually be as high as $3,613 per year—easily the cost of a week-long, five-star vacation! We know which we'd rather spend our money on!

No matter how you look at it, fast food comes with a ton of hidden costs that can steal thousands of your hard-earned dollars annually. Which, when you think about it, is far more than you'd spend adding some healthier groceries to your shopping cart. So next time you walk by the Golden Arches, think twice about walking inside. Your value meal may not be such a great value afterall.

Dana Leigh Smith
Dana has written for Women's Health, Prevention, Reader's Digest, and countless other publications. Read more about Dana Leigh