Fast-food outlet in neighbourhood could mean heavier kids

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Fast food joints in the vicinity are bad for kids' waistlines.
Fast food joints in the vicinity are bad for kids' waistlines.

Having a fast-food joint right down the block might not bode well for your child's chances of staying a healthy weight, new research suggests.

Among the more than one million children who attend New York City public schools, the closer kids lived to places that sell unhealthy food, the greater their risk was for packing on the pounds, the study found.

Obese and overweight

Researchers analysed data from children aged five to 18 and found that among those who lived within a half-block of a fast-food outlet, 20% were obese and 38% were overweight.

Among children who lived within a half-block of corner stores or bodegas, 21% were obese and 40% were overweight.

For every half- or full block farther away that children lived from places selling unhealthy food, obesity rates dropped by between 1% to more than 4%, depending on the type of food outlet.

"Our study indicates that living very close to food outlets with a lot of unhealthy, junk food choices is likely not good for reducing the risk of children being overweight and/or obese," said senior investigator Brian Elbel, an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at New York University School of Medicine.

"Just having food outlets a block farther away – and potentially less convenient or accessible – can significantly lessen children's chances of being obese or overweight," he added in a university news release.

Thousands can be saved

The findings were published online in the journal Obesity.

The study is the largest to date of urban childhood obesity in the United States, according to Elbel.

The findings could lend support to policies that keep fast-food outlets and corner stores a minimum distance away from housing complexes or neighbourhoods with high rates of obesity, he suggested.

Even a slight drop in obesity rates could save thousands of children from adult obesity and associated health problems such as increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and early death, Elbel said.

He noted that the study found no increase in obesity risk based on the distance from a child's home to grocery stores and sit-down restaurants. What puts children at risk of obesity is how easily and quickly they can get junk food, Elbel noted, though the study did not prove that proximity to unhealthy food caused obesity.

Image credit: iStock

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