A study from the University of Canterbury suggests that living near fast-food restaurants could be bad for your health.
Specifically, it could lead to weight gain. On the other hand, living near a supermarket could be slightly better for your health.
Study Details and Purpose
The study was led by Dr. Matthew Hobbs, a Senior Lecturer in Public Health at the University of Canterbury.
He and his team used data from the Christchurch Health and Development Study, a research project that’s been collecting health data about a group of people born in 1977 all the way until they turned 40 in 2017.
The purpose of the study was to look at how access to fast food and supermarkets impacts health.
Dr. Hobbs explained that fast food tends to be more common in poorer areas, where there’s also a higher rate of obesity. The team hoped to use their findings to promote healthier food environments.
The study revealed that people who lived closer to supermarkets had smaller increases in body mass index (BMI) and waist size than those who lived further away.
BMI is a measure that helps tell if a person is at a healthy weight for their height. Waist size is another indicator of health, as carrying too much weight around the waist can increase the risk of health problems.
On the other hand, people who lived closer to fast food restaurants over a ten-year period had slightly larger increases in BMI and waist size.
Dr. Hobbs pointed out that the global increase in obesity since 1980 is too fast to be caused by genetic or biological factors alone.
Instead, he suggests that the rise in obesity could be linked to the increase in cheap, tasty, high-calorie foods that are easy to get and well-advertised.
The Influence of Food Environments
Dr. Hobbs and his team looked at how changes in people’s ‘food environments’ affected their weight. By ‘food environment’, they mean the types of food outlets that are close to where people live.
The researchers were interested in what happened when people moved house, or when a new fast food restaurant or supermarket opened near where they lived. They found that these changes could affect people’s waistlines.
However, the study only looked at how close people lived to different food outlets. It didn’t consider other aspects of the food environment like the price or quality of food, or how much people actually used these outlets.
Implications of the Study
Based on his team’s findings, Dr. Hobbs believes that public health authorities and town planners should think carefully about where to allow fast food restaurants and supermarkets.
He suggests that controlling where these outlets are allowed could help improve the health of the population.
This approach is already used in some parts of the UK, where local government areas have policies to control the number of fast food outlets through town planning.
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