Proximity to Fast Food Linked to Childhood Obesity


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Fast food restaurants are ubiquitous in the U.S. Small-town streets across the country are lined with a variety of junk food, displaying the troubled American relationship with food that has helped cause obesity levels health researchers now refer to as an epidemic.

In case there was any doubt that fast food is strongly linked with being overweight, a new study out of the University of East Anglia (UEA) has shown that proximity to fast food restaurants is a fairly good predictor of whether children will be overweight or obese. The study, published today in the journal Health and Place, found that the density of fast food restaurants in an area is a fairly good predictor of how many overweight children will live in that same area.

The study looked at more than one million children in the UK, noting their weight and how available cheap, high calorie foods such as burgers and pizza were to them.

"We found that the more unhealthy food outlets there are in a neighbourhood, the greater the number of overweight and obese children," said Andy Jones, lead author of the study and a researcher at the UEA medical school. "The results were more pronounced in secondary school children who have more spending power to choose their own food."

Jones and his colleagues also found that the opposite was true, that children in areas with access to healthy foods were less likely to be overweight. The study's authors believe that their findings could inform future health policy, possibly leading to healthier food environments for children in the future.

"Public health policies to reduce obesity in children should incorporate strategies to prevent high concentrations of fast food and other unhealthy food outlets," said Andreea Cetateanu, co-author of the study and a PhD student at UEA. "But there is no quick fix - and any interventions for tackling childhood obesity and creating environments that are more supportive for both physical activity and better dietary choices must be part of the bigger picture looking at the whole obesity system."