Washington: In a recent study by researchers at NYU School of Medicine, it has been found that sources of junk food near a school or house influence the eating habits of children. The study was published in the journal, 'Obesity.' As measured in city blocks, proximity to fast and convenience food sellers can impact a student's chances of becoming obese.
The team of researchers found that among children between the ages of 5 and 18 living within a half-block of (or roughly 0.025 miles from) a fast-food outlet, 20 per cent were obese and 38 per cent were overweight. Similarly, among children who lived within a half-block of corner stores or bodegas, 21 per cent were obese and 40 per cent overweight.
For every half or full block farther away from that students lived from unhealthy food sources, obesity figures dropped from between 1 per cent to more than 4 percent, depending on the type of food outlet, according to the study authors.
The team's findings stemmed from an analysis of public-school records from kindergarten through high school, which included periodic measurements of children's height and weight. Researchers used mapping software to compare that information with how far every child lived from sellers of both junk and healthy foods at fast food outlets, corner stores, sit-down restaurants, and grocery stores.
"Our study indicates that living very close to food outlets with a lot of unhealthy, junk food choices is likely not good for reducing the risk of children being overweight and/or obese," said senior researcher Brian Elbel. "Just having food outlets a block farther away -- and potentially less convenient or accessible -- can significantly lessen children's chances of being obese or overweight," added Elbel.
Even a drop in obesity rates of just a few percentage points, he says, translates into potentially saving thousands of children from obesity and its associated health problems, including increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, and early death.
Experts estimate that about one in five school-age children in the United States have an excess of body fat and are now obese (having a body mass index at or above the 95 percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex), a tripling of rates since the 1970s. Record numbers are also overweight (having a body mass index at or above the 85 percentile and below the 95 percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Elbel, an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU School of Medicine and at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, says the findings could support policies that limit fast food outlets and corner stores to keep them at a minimum distance away from housing complexes or neighbourhoods with persistently high rates of obesity.