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Proximity to Fast Food Linked to Childhood Obesity

Update Date: Feb 14, 2014 02:49 PM EST

Fast food has been linked to obesity in numerous ways, and new research suggests that living close to fast food restaurants increases children's risk of becoming overweight.

The latest study compared weight data from more than a million children to the availability of fast food from outlets including burger joints, pizza places and candy stores.

The findings revealed that children are significantly more likely to be overweight when living in close proximity to fast food restaurants.

"We found that the more unhealthy food outlets there are in a neighborhood, the greater the number of overweight and obese children. The results were more pronounced in secondary school children who have more spending power to choose their own food," lead researcher Prof Andy Jones, from University of East Anglia's Norwich Medical School, said in a news release. "But the association was reversed in areas with more healthy food options available."

"This is important because there is an epidemic of obesity among children in the UK and other industrialized countries. It can lead to childhood diabetes, low self-esteem, and orthopedic and cardiovascular problems. It is also a big problem because around 70 per cent of obese children and teenagers also go on to have weight problems in later life," he added.

"We know that fast food is more common in deprived areas of the UK and that over-weight children are more likely to come from socio-economically deprived populations. But associations between children's weight and the availability of junk food have not been shown before at a national scale," co-author Andreea Cetateanu, from UEA's school of Environmental Sciences, said in a statement.

"If we can use these findings to influence planning decisions and help create a more healthy food environment, we may be able to help reverse this trend for future generations," she added.

"Public health policies to reduce obesity in children should incorporate strategies to prevent high concentrations of fast food and other unhealthy food outlets. 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," Cetateanu said.

Researchers noted that they accounted for factors such as travelling time it takes people to buy food, socioeconomic status and measurements of green space.

The findings are published in the journal Health and Place.

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