+ Fast Food Near Schools = Obese Kids

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From Judy Steenhuysen at Reuters.com:

A study suggests that kids whose schools are a short walk from fast food outlets eat fewer fruits and vegetables, drink more soda and are more likely to be obese than students at other schools.

The study involved more than 500,000 adolescents at middle schools and high schools in California.  It lends new fuel to a growing backlash against the fast-food industry, as more and more studies imply that it contributes to a rising obesity epidemic in the US.

The study appears in the American Journal of Public Health, and was led by Brennan Davis of Azusa Pacific University in California.

US obesity rates have tripled since 1960, although they have leveled off this decade.  According to government reports, 32 percent of US children are overweight; 16 percent are obese.

In the summer of 2008 Los Angeles established a moratorium on new fast food restaurants in certain LA neighborhoods.   Many consumer groups have pushed for other laws. 

The fast-food industry says lack of exercise is to blame for the problem of obesity.

The researchers say it is not yet clear whether their results apply to other parts of the US, and that further studies are needed.  But this study does add to prior research showing that fast-food restaurants tend to be clustered near schools.

“We are actually making a connection between fast food proximity to schools and obesity,” says Davis.  “Students who were exposed to nearby fast food have a higher level of body mass index — they weigh more.  They are more likely to be overweight and obese.”

In the study, Davis and colleagues examined the relationship between these restaurants being located within a half mile of schools and obesity levels.  They took weight and dietary information from a statewide school survey between 2002 and 2005; they then cross referenced the data with a database of top fast food chains located near each school.

“Overall, our patterns are consistent with the idea that fast food near schools affects students’ eating habits, overweight and obesity,” they write.

They also found that students whose schools were located near fast food restaurants ate fewer healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and that they drank greater amounts of  heavily sugared sodas.

Researchers also suggest that there is more to it than tacos and french fries.

Suggests Davis, “A nearby fast-food restaurant is really a hangout for people to socialize.”

source: Julie Steenhuysens’ article at Reuters.com on 12/24/08.  www.reuters.com

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