A community group in North Philadelphia is helping local residents navigate the maze of fast food options in the neighborhood. 

Health educator Marian Dalke leads an eight-week course on better eating and exercise at Congreso de Latinos Unidos. The Healthy Movimiento program was taught in Spanish and was free to participants.

Dalke takes her students on a fast-food field trip, but arms them with calorie and nutrition information first. When the group arrives at the restaurant and looks up at the menu board, Dalke says the healthy options can be hard to find.

"So if there's a crunchy chicken, crispy chicken and grilled chicken, just being able to distinguish between those," Dalke said.

Congreso's community center sits at the corner of Second and Somerset streets just blocks away from a Checkers, Wendy's, McDonald's and a Popeye's.

"We're just trying to meet people where they are at," Dalke said. "We can't give people messages about healthy living that they aren't able to apply directly into their lives — saying shop organic at Trader Joe's if that's not an option for them."

Katherine Bauer, a health researcher at Temple University's Center for Obesity Research and Education, says her team recently studied the offerings at some of the largest fast-food chains. The big purveyors of burgers and chalupas have created healthier options in recent years, but Bauer said the sheer number of options has increased too.

"There's a lot of things being advertised and sold to you," she said. "You have to be thoughtful in what you are selecting to ensure that you are not going to end up with a meal that's way over your target calorie intake for the day."

Bauer's new study was published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
She's not surprised when a customer goes into a restaurant with good intentions and leaves with a sweet tea and large fries.

"I really think we need some policy action and to change our environment because it's just too hard for individuals to sort through all this," Bauer said.

The federal Affordable Care Act includes a plan to require chain restaurants to include calorie-counts on menu boards and drive-thru signs, but it's not clear when the final rules will be written.