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New research shows that children living closer to fast-food outlets are more likely to be overweight.
The study by the UEA and CEDAR (The Centre For Diet And Activity Research) looked at weight data for more than 1 million children and compared it with the proximity of unhealthy food shops such as fish and chip shops, burger bars, pizza places and sweet shops.
Researchers found a strong link between overweight children and how available unhealthy food is. They also found that the young people most likely to be affected by this are children in secondary school because they tend to have more money at their disposal.
The team used data from the National Child Measurement Programme which annually takes the height and weight of the majority of children in state schools across England. They also took factors into account such as, people living in rural areas travelling further for food, children living in low income enviornments and the amount of green outdoor space available to them - all things that impact the health of children and the amount of exercise they get.
It is hoped that the findings will help tackle the growing problem of child obesity and show the importance of providing a healthy enviornment for children.
Prof Andy Jones, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, led the research. He said:
“We found that the more unhealthy food outlets there are in a neighbourhood, 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.
“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 industrialised countries. It can lead to childhood diabetes, low self-esteem, and orthopaedic 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.”
Study co-author Andreea Cetateanu, from UEA’s school of Environmental Sciences, hopes the findings will prompt action:
“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.
“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.
“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.”
‘Understanding the relationship between food environments, deprivation and childhood overweight and obesity: evidence from a cross sectional England-wide study’ is published in the journal Health and Place today.