Sunday, December 28, 2008
Photo by ebruli.
I came across two interesting articles on the weekend regarding nutrition in the United States. The first, from the Washington Post, discusses ways that President-elect Obama may use food assistance programs to improve the quality of food - and hopefully the health - of individuals receiving food stamps.
The other article was published on the website of the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) last week (For an article interviewing lead author Brennan Davis, click here.). In the AJPH article, authors Davis and Carpenter examined how students in California were influenced by the proximity of fast-food outlets to their schools. Not surprisingly, the authors report that students attending schools within a half-mile of fast-food outlets consumed fewer fruits and vegetables and more pop than students attending schools more than a half-mile from fast-food outlets. Further, the risk of being either overweight or obese was roughly 7% higher in schools near fast-food restaurants.
When I think about my own life, these findings make sense. There is a pizza outlet right next to our lab at Queen's that is open from September until April. During the months that they are open, I tend to buy myself a slice of pizza at least once a week (I think Peter will agree that's a very conservative estimate). However, in the summer, I tend to either bring my own lunch or walk to a grocery store with Peter and buy ingredients to make myself a fresh sandwich. If they were open year-round, I would be eating 15-20 extra slices of pizza pepperoni pizza every year. When fast-food is the most convenient option, like many people, I will give in to temptation more than I would like. Why should teenagers be any different?
Although the 7% increased risk of obesity in schools within a half mile of fast-food outlets does not sound huge, the study by Davis and Carpenter still serves as a reminder of the important role that the environment plays in the obesity epidemic. Keep in mind that fast-food outlets tend to cluster near schools. For example, roughly 80% of schools in the Chicago area are within a half-mile of fast-food, and the average distance is just over a quarter of a mile. Reducing students' access to fast-food (both in and out of school) is one simple step we can take to help lower the rates of overweight and obese youth in Canada and other western nations.
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