What’s the Link? Children, Fast Food Outlets & Obesity

Diet, Tape MeasureAn article by Susan Mayor of the British Medical Journal:

Children living in areas surrounded by fast food outlets are more likely to be overweight or obese, an England-wide study has shown.

Researchers analysed data from the National Child Measurement Programme, which records the height and weight of one million children at most English state schools each year. The study compared two years of weight data on children (2007-08 and 2009-10) with the availability of unhealthy food outlets in the areas where they lived, including fish and chip shops, burger bars, pizza restaurants, and sweet shops.

Results showed that children living in areas with more fast food and other unhealthy food outlets were more likely to be overweight (≥85th centile of UK reference figures) or obese (≥95th centile) than those living in other areas (P<0.01).1 But this association was reversed in areas with more mixed food outlets, such as supermarkets, bakeries, and delicatessens.

The difference was most marked among secondary school children: the prevalence of overweight and obesity was 4% higher in those who lived in the highest quartile areas for fast food outlets, compared with those living in the quartile with the lowest number.

Further analysis indicated that 1-2% of the total effect of deprivation on obesity and overweight among secondary school children in England was explained by the local availability of fast food and other unhealthy food outlets.

Andreea Cetateanu, research assistant at the University of East Anglia in Norwich and one of the study’s coauthors, said, “We know that fast food is more common in deprived areas of the UK and that overweight children are more likely to come from socioeconomically 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.”

She acknowledged that easy access to fast food accounted for only a small proportion of childhood obesity and that solutions would have to be multi-factorial.


BMJ 2014;348:g1557.

Reference (In the article)


Cetateanu, A. & Jones, A.P. (2014) Understanding the Relationship between Food Environments, Deprivation and Childhood Overweight and Obesity: Evidence from a Cross Sectional England-wide Study. Health & Place. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2014.01.007.


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