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Study: Living near junk food increases obesity risk in children

Among the more than 1 million children in New York City public schools, the closer kids live to places that sell unhealthy food, the greater their risk for packing on the pounds, the study says.

By HealthDay News
Study: Living near junk food increases obesity risk in children
Researchers say that living near fast food restaurants or stores that sell junk food increases risk for children to be overweight or obese, which backs up previous research. File Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 30 -- Having a fast-food joint right down the block might not bode well for your child's chances of staying a healthy weight, new research suggests.

Among the more than 1 million children who attend New York City public schools, the closer kids lived to places that sell unhealthy food, the greater their risk was for packing on the pounds, the study found.

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Researchers analyzed data from children aged 5 to 18 and found that among those who lived within a half-block of a fast-food outlet, 20 percent were obese and 38 percent were overweight.

Among children who lived within a half-block of corner stores or bodegas, 21 percent were obese and 40 percent were overweight.

RELATED Easy access to fast-food restaurants associated with higher weight

For every half- or full block farther away that children lived from places selling unhealthy food, obesity rates dropped by between 1 percent to more than 4 percent, depending on the type of food outlet.

"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 investigator Brian Elbel, an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at New York University School of Medicine.

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"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," he added in a university news release.

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The findings were published online Oct. 29 in the journal Obesity.

The study is the largest to date of urban childhood obesity in the United States, according to Elbel.

The findings could lend support to policies that keep fast-food outlets and corner stores a minimum distance away from housing complexes or neighborhoods with high rates of obesity, he suggested.

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Even a slight drop in obesity rates could save thousands of children from adult obesity and associated health problems such as increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and early death, Elbel said.

He noted that the study found no increase in obesity risk based on the distance from a child's home to grocery stores and sit-down restaurants. What puts children at risk of obesity is how easily and quickly they can get junk food, Elbel noted, though the study did not prove that proximity to unhealthy food caused obesity.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on obesity prevention.

Copyright 2019 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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