Fast food equals obesity if nearby and no car

According to a University of Pittsburgh study, living near fast food, without a car, is associated with higher body mass index (BMI), and obesity. The results of the analysis showed that people living in fast food neighborhoods, despite walking to restaurants, were twelve pounds heavier than those without fast food nearby.

Sanae Inagami, M.D., study lead author and assistant professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine says, “Owning a car is generally associated with a more sedentary lifestyle and excess weight gain because people spend more time in their cars and less time walking. But when Inagami and colleagues investigated, they found that now owning a car was associated with increased rates of obesity among those living in proximity to a fast food restaurant.

“Fast food may be specific to weight gain in particular populations and locations,” says Dr. Inagami. “People who are less affluent don’t own cars and can’t go distances for healthier foods. As a result, they may end up opting for the lower-priced and high caloric foods available at fast food chains.” The end result is poor health from increased weight, and higher rates of obesity when healthier food is not readily available.

The study, published this month in the Journal of Urban Health, shows how the availability of restaurants in a given area can impact health and contributes to obesity.

“There has been a major focus on fast food and its impact on individual health, but we need to consider the availability of all types of restaurants at individual and community levels”, says the researcher. The study found that living near fast food restaurants does impact health and seems to influence obesity rates.

The study looked at 2,156 adults in 63 neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. Residents without cars in areas containing five fast food restaurants per mile weighed 2.7 pounds more than those with cars. In areas without a concentration of fast food restaurants, car owners weighed 8.5 pounds more than non-car owners. Having no transportation and healthier food nearby was associated with lower weight.

Inagami suggests encouraging communities to pay more attention to their food environment, to help curb obesity rates. Previous studies have linked obesity rates to proximity of fast food restaurants. The new study suggests not having a car mandates eating unhealthy fast food for some groups.

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