It should come as no surprise that unhealthy foods such as those commonly served at fast-food restaurants are related to medical problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. A new study has gone even further, however, finding that the number of fast-food restaurants in a community can be seen as a predictor of such symptoms.
The study, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, found that an individual’s proximity to fast-food restaurants could be linked to their risk of type-2 diabetes and obesity. More specifically the study’s authors found that for every two additional fast-food restaurants in a neighborhood, that neighborhood could expect one additional person with diabetes.
“This work has several notable strengths; namely, it is the first study, to our knowledge, to look at the association between the number of neighbourhood fast-food outlets and type 2 diabetes in a multi-ethnic population,” said Patrice Carter, a co-author of the study and a research associate at the University of Leicester. “Although it is not possible to infer causal effect, our study found that plausible causal mechanisms exist.”
Another disturbing trend seen in the study’s data is that poorer, non-white communities were more likely to have a greater number of fast-food restaurants. People of non-white ethnicity were found to have more than twice the number of fast-food restaurants in their neighborhood compared to white Europeans.
“We found a much higher number of fast-food outlets in more deprived areas where a higher number of black and minority ethnic populations resided,” said Dr. Kamlesh Khunti, a co-author of the study and a professor of primary care diabetes & vascular medicine at the University of Leicester. “This in turn was associated with higher prevalence of obesity and diabetes. The results are quite alarming and have major implications for public health interventions to limit the number of fast-food outlets in more deprived areas.”
Khunti and his colleagues believe that this study could have a significant impact on future health policy, diabetes prevention, and community zoning laws. In the U.K. data from the study, which looked at over 10,000 people, has already been used to inform NHS Health Checks Programme recommendations.