Children living close to fast food outlets are more likely to gain weight compared with those living further away, a new study has shown.
Researchers from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) said the findings raised important questions about the role of the local food environment in driving obesity among young people.
Academics tracked the weight of more than 1,500 primary school children in South Gloucestershire between reception year (aged 4-5) and Year 6 (aged 10-11). They found that children living closer to fast food outlets were more likely to gain a significant amount of weight between the first and last year of school.
The study also found a higher density of fast food outlets within poorer neighbourhoods.
Lead researcher Matthew Pearce said the findings raised important questions about the role of the local food environment and its influence on the diet of young children.
“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.”
Pearce said obesity is driven by many complex factors, adding that the study builds on existing evidence that the neighbourhood environment plays an important role in the development of obesity.
Previous research has found that adults and children who live near fast food outlets are more likely to be overweight or obese but the UWE Bristol study is the first to show an association between accessibility to fast food outlets and weight gain over time.
And Pearce called for more to be done to help people lead healthier lives.
“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 policy makers to take decisions that support more favourable conditions that enable people to eat healthier and become more physically active.”