Research and Statistics

Can you blame a credit card for those extra pounds?


Data suggests that consumers may be contributing to their own weight problems by making fast-food purchases using credit cards and debit cards.

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Credit cards have been blamed for numerous common American problems, such as overspending, consumer debt and bad credit. Now there may be another gripe to add to that list.

As more fast food restaurants accept payment by credit card, it is getting easier to buy that burger in a pinch. But the question remains: Is that a good thing for U.S. waistlines?

For many in the health care industry, the answer would most likely be a resounding “no.” Nutritionists would probably be dismayed to hear that data indicates cardholders actually buy 30 percent more when paying with plastic than with cash.

Based on new data from a Visa-commissioned survey, 82 percent of those polled said fast food buys using a credit card or debit card are more convenient than paying with cash and 68 percent stated that plastic payments are faster than counting out greenbacks.

Additionally, 77 percent of people surveyed noted that paying by card means they can order whatever they want, since having enough cash on hand isn’t a concern.

While most fast food transactions are still cash-based, there is reason to believe that credit cards and debit cards are coming out of consumers’ wallets more frequently in such establishments. From April 2006 to March 2007, Visa payments at quick-service restaurants rose 31 percent and debit card use gained 32 percent.

And it may be getting even easier to charge those fries.

Fast-food chain Jack in the Box announced in November 2006 that it will offer contactless card readers in all its restaurants, meaning customers can merely waive their contacless credit card in front of a reader installed at the counter or drive-thru window.

Not only do credit cards make it easier to buy fast food, but it appears they actually encourage cardholders to order more, based on a Visa study of 100,000 restaurant transactions that showed customers spent 30 percent more with a credit card, on average, than with cash.

In the world of fast food, that 30 percent increase can mean an order gets super-sized or includes a high-calorie dessert.

According to a study published in the June 2006 edition of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that the average up-sized meal at a fast food establishment cost an extra 67 cents, added 73 calories, and produced an average 36-gram weight gain.

Regardless of whether plastic impacts their pants size, credit card users who revolve balances can be sure those charged fast food meals will impact their wallets.


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