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Credit cards can make you fat

Using credit and debit cards can help make you fat.

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We all know high-fat and high-calorie fast foods cause weight gain -- an estimated 30 percent of Americans are considered obese -- but the combination of flavor and convenience keep them immensely popular.

Today, credit cards make those unhealthy eating habits easier to adapt than ever -- and can actually help you pack on the pounds.

Credit cards are packing on the pounds because:
More fast food outlets than ever are accepting credit cards.
People who use credit cards to buy fast food actually purchase 30 percent more than those using cash.

In years past, fast food restaurants accepted only cash, largely because credit-card transactions used to take too long to process, impinging on the fast food concept. As a result, consumers who didn't have enough cash on them would bypass the local fast food joint and head on home where the dining choices were bound to be somewhat healthier.

But technology now enables transactions to be made in seconds, fast food restaurants across the country are accepting credit and debit card payments, and people have little reason to ignore the impulse to grab something quick. According to a new survey commissioned by Visa, 82 percent of respondents said fast food purchases made with debit or credit cards are more convenient than dealing with cash. And 68 percent say using payment cards is faster than paying with cash. Importantly, 77 percent say they can buy exactly what they want because they are not limited by the cash they have available.

The average up-sized fast-food meal adds 73 more calories, costs an extra 67 cents and results in an average 36-gram (0.07 pounds) weight gain.

"What we've heard from guests is that they appreciate the speed and convenience," says Cason Lane, a spokesman for Jack in the Box restaurants based in San Diego. "We're always looking at ways to make payment easier for our guests."

Approximately $160 billion was spent at fast food restaurants last year, and more than 80 percent of the transactions were conducted in cash. However, customers increasingly are using debit and credit cards: In the 12 months ending March 31, 2007, the use of Visa cards at quick-service restaurants increased 31 percent and debit card usage at fast food outlets grew 32 percent.

Not only is the use of credit cards growing in popularity, new technologies are even eliminating the need for consumers to sign their receipts or to even hand their cards over to employees.

In November, Jack in the Box announced the deployment of contactless card readers in all of its restaurants, which allow drivers to merely hold a special contactless credit card in front of a reader located at the counter or the drive-through window. American Express, Discover Financial Services, MasterCard and Visa all offer a version of the cards, which have microchips embedded in them and use radio waves to communicate with the readers.

"Instead of giving the credit card to the cashier, the consumer retains control of the credit card the whole time," says Lane. "They just swipe it themselves at the drive-through window. The feedback to that has been quite positive."

Next: "People spend more money when they pay via credit card."
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