In Sacramento, along Marconi Avenue between Eastern Norris, there are several fast-food eateries within a two or three block area, McDonald's, KFC, Carls, a fast-food Taco eatery, Panda, and along Watt between Marconi and El Camino Avenues, within a few blocks are a stretch of fast-food eateries from Jack-in-the Box and Subway to several other fast-food eateries, including a Taco eatery. So many fast-food choices are available within a short walk, frequently every two blocks in some areas or fast-food eateries right next to one another stretching for several blocks.
Think the fast-food outlets every few blocks are making teenagers obese? No so, says a new study. Students with more fast food outlets in their neighborhoods were less likely to be obese, says the new findings. However, the results differed for boys and girls.
In the opposite corner, some neighborhoods don't have access to foods, not even large supermarkets and little or no access to buy fresh produce or even organic salad choices. You also may wish to check out a study, "Disparities and access to healthy food in the United States: A review of food deserts literature."
Are fast-food eateries a barometer for teen obesity?
Research suggests communities may want to look beyond fast food outlets to the greater retail environment. When it comes to addressing the obesity epidemic, fast food restaurants are a favorite target, with some communities, such as the city of Los Angeles, going so far as to ban the construction of new, standalone fast food restaurants in neighborhoods with a high density of fast food restaurants that are also plagued by a high obesity rate.
Now, according to a new study coauthored by Michael Bader, an assistant professor of sociology at American University in Washington, D.C., communities contemplating such bans may want to look beyond the number of fast food outlets to the greater retail environment of each neighborhood. "Fast food restaurants don't exist in a vacuum," Bader says in the September 23, 2013 news release, Retail investment: A barometer for teen obesity? "Restaurants and stores open and close based on larger economic development patterns."
Bader's article, coauthored with colleagues at Columbia University and titled "More Neighborhood Retail Associated with Lower Obesity among New York City Public High School Students," is published today in the September 23, 2013 issue of the journal Health & Place.
The more banks in the neighborhood, the less likely the teenager was to be obese
The study, based on body mass index (BMI) data of 94,348 high school students in New York City public schools, found that the more banks in a student's neighborhood, the less likely the student was to be obese.
"We used banks to measure the influence of retail investment because we could reasonably assume that they don't cause adolescent obesity, but are related to investment patterns," Bader says in the news release. "When we found that having more banks in a neighborhood predicted a lower likelihood of obesity, we were reasonably confident that this association showed the beneficial influence of neighborhood retail investment."
A Surprising Discovery
But before they examined their sample for the relationship between banks and adolescent obesity, Bader and his colleagues analyzed their data to see if the density of fast food outlets had an impact on adolescent obesity.
They discovered something so unexpected, even they found it surprising—the same inverse relationship they found between banks and adolescent obesity existed between fast food outlets and adolescent obesity.
In other words, the students with more fast food outlets in their neighborhoods were less likely to be obese. However, the results differed for boys and girls. A boy who had three fewer fast-food outlets in his neighborhood than an otherwise comparable boy was 12 percent more likely to be obese. For girls, this changed to a 9 percent higher chance of being obese than an otherwise similar girl, but instead of three fewer fast food outlets in the girl's neighborhood, it was three fewer pizza places.
Retail Environment = Complex Ecosystem
"The location of fast food restaurants and banks were correlated, because they respond to similar economic conditions," Bader said. "A neighborhood's retail environment is a complex ecosystem, and we think that these findings show that is important to consider how the retail ecosystem might influence health."
Because of this complexity, Bader and his colleagues could not pinpoint exactly what factors created the more banks and fast food outlets/fewer obese teens relationship, but offered some hypotheses.
"A larger retail presence might provide what [the late urban activist] Jane Jacobs termed 'eyes on the street' to prevent crime, a political lobby to support neighborhood services, and, of course, employment for local residents," Bader says in the news release.
The density of parks encouraging physical activities and the number of supermarkets may be a factor
Other factors that were not accounted for in the study that could have impacted the students' BMI data include the density of parks and other spaces that encourage physical activity in students' neighborhoods or the number of supermarkets, which usually offer more healthful food options than do fast food outlets.
"We will continue to investigate the complexity of the urban economic ecosystem, including how the density and diversity of food options in neighborhoods might influence obesity outcomes," Bader says in the news release. "This paper provides a preliminary finding that we hope will encourage more research investigating how economic development might influence health."
You also may want to take a look at the abstract of the study, "Let’s Have Lunch! – Teachers Eating with Their Students Provides Nutrition Education Opportunities." (Elsevier.) Much attention has focused on school meals, both in the United States and across the globe. Researchers at Uppsala University, Sweden, evaluated teachers eating lunch with the school children.
In Sweden, this practice is referred to as "pedagogic meals" because it offers the opportunity of having children learn by modeling adults. The researchers wanted to observe how the teachers interacted with the children during meals in order to better understand how to interpret results of this practice. The study is published in the September/October 2013 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.