Postcode Lottery for Childhood Obesity

Published on: 6 Oct 2017

Fast FoodChildren are more likely to be obese if they live near a fast food outlet, according to a new study.

The results suggest that mere proximity to unhealthy options is enough to tip the scales against the child.

New study published

Researchers from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) carried out a study which looked at the proximity of children to fast food outlets, and whether this had any correlation with their weight. They looked at 1,500 state primary school students who were between the ages of four and 11, and tracked their weight between their first year of primary school and their last.

It seems that children are more likely to gain a significant amount of weight during their primary school education the closer they are to these fast food places.

The study is to be published in the Journal of Public Health. The authors believe that they are the first to discover a link between weight gain over time and the proximity, or accessibility, of fast food. Matthew Pearce is the lead researcher, and he feels that the results demand important questions about how we look at the local food environment when considering children.

Childhood ObesityPearce said: “We know from national data that the number of children classified as obese doubles between the first and last year of primary school. Understanding the reasons for this is important to protect the future health of children. Obesity is driven by many complex factors. Our study adds to existing evidence that the neighbourhood environment plays an important role in the development of obesity.”

There is definitely food for thought here for people in food jobs who have families. Is it better to be closer to work, or have healthier children? Is there a way to fight this effect and ensure that children grow up with a healthier diet even in spite of their environment?

The range is tight, with the study only including outlets that were within a half mile of children’s homes.

How to combat it

A lot of focus is currently being placed on areas like food packaging, where bright colours and cartoon characters can entice children into eating unhealthy options. Marketing on television and on billboards is also being criticised for the way that it can make it seem like unhealthy food is the best option for young children. However, many feel that the onus is on the parent and the individual child to make healthy choices through life.

Caroline Cerny, of the Obesity Health Alliance, said: “Despite the health impact of the obesity epidemic being well known, it is shocking that the number of fast food takeaways is increasing. Whether it’s the marketing of junk food on billboards and TV, or the proximity of junk food outlets to schools, we know our environment has a huge impact on levels of overweightness and obesity.”

Pearce added: While ultimately it is down to individuals on how they choose to live, it is widely accepted that we live in environments that make managing our weight increasingly difficult. We therefore need national and local policymakers to take decisions that support more favourable conditions that enable people to eat healthier and become more physically active.”

Houses of ParliamentIt's interesting to suggest that the government should step in, and it could certainly be done. There is precedent, such as the legislation brought in to reduce the size of betting shops and restrict the number of gambling machines they can use. This was done for the health of the general public – so a similar measure for fast food outlets would not at all be unusual.