The Closer New York Kids Live to Junk Food Stores, the Fatter They Get

New York City children who live near fast food outlets and convenience stores are more likely to be obese, a study has found.

Children who lived more than half a block from a fast-food restaurant had a lower chance of being obese and overweight, according to research published in the journal Obesity. A similar link was found with corner stores.

Rates of childhood obesity have crept up since the 1980s, and the condition effects an estimated 18.5 percent of 2- to 19-year-olds in the U.S., the authors of the paper pointed out.

To examine the role that ease of access to food might have, researchers calculated the body mass index (BMI) of 3,507,542 children aged between 5- and 18-years-old attending New York City public schools between 2009 and 2013.

They also looked at how how close children lived to four types of food outlets: fast-food; wait service restaurants; corner stores; and supermarkets.

Some 65,491 children lived within half a block, or around 0.025 miles, of a fast-food outlet, mostly in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Of this segment, 20 percent were obese, 38.1 percent overweight, and 85.1 percent were classed as poor.

The data also revealed 21 percent of children who lived half a block form a bodega or corner store were obese, while 40 percent were overweight. Those who lived more than a block away from such outlets were between 2.5 to 4.4 percent less likely to be obese than the other children. The authors didn't find the proximity of grocery stores or sit-down restaurants affected obesity rates.

"Our findings suggest that policy efforts to create a healthy food environment in close proximity to home could have small but potentially meaningful health implications for at least the subset of children who live very close to such establishments," the authors wrote.

Co-author Brian Elbel, associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU School of Medicine, commented in a statement: "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.

"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."

Last year, a separate study similarly found a child's environment could affect their chances of become obese.

Canadian scientists showed children who lived in households where disinfectants were used at least once a week had a higher body mass index (BMI) at the age of three compared to children who came in less regular contact with such products. But children in homes where eco-friendly substances were used were less likely to be overweight.

The products may affect a child's gut bacteria, the researchers said.

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A stock image of a teenage girl eating a hamburger. Researchers have investigated the link between obesity and proximity to fast food sources. Getty