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Fast Food Availability and Health

posted Mar 17, 2014, 2:49 AM by Ben Jane
A study published this week in the BMJ (Burgoine et a, 2014) found that that those living or working near to 'clusters' of takeaway outlets were more likely to eat unhealthy food, a fact that may seem obvious but has not been evidenced a great deal before.The study by the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge looked at the eating habits of adults that lived in Cambridge and took part in a lifestyle study in 2011. Researchers used data from the Fenland Study, a population based cohort study of adults aged 29-62, where data on 10,452 participants were available, with 5,442 participants eligible for this study. Only adults working outside the home were included but the study found that participants were exposed to, on average, 32 different takeaway options on a daily basis and the group of people who were most exposed to fast food options consumed on average 5.7 grams more takeaway food than the least exposed group

The group also looked at BMI and associations between this and exposure to takeaway food outlets were found to be consistent. The group most exposed to takeaway food outlets in all environments (home, work & commute) were estimated to have a BMI 1.21 greater than those least exposed, with evidence of a dose-response effect. Those most exposed overall were also almost twice as likely to be obese, compared to those least exposed.

The group controlled for demographic factors like age, income and education, and the amount of calories that participants burned through physical activity but while the findings can suggest an association between people's food environments and their chances of being overweight, population based studies such as this can’t go as far as proving a casual link between the two factors.

This study focussed on those that are employed so future research may find effect sizes that are different in the unemployed and more significant research might one day be able to examine the effects of legal restrictions on fast food outlets in certain areas.

This study does however reinforce the environmental context of decision making and that food choices are more than just the rational decisions of individuals.

Maybe its about time we all looked at our own environments, and particularly those areas of increased social deprivation and question the availability of readily accessible poor food choices.

Burgoine, T., Forouhi, N. G., Griffin, S. J., Wareham, N. J., & Monsivais, P. (2014) Associations between exposure to takeaway food outlets, takeaway food consumption, and body weight in Cambridgeshire, UK: population based, cross sectional study. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 348. [full text]