Study reveals no link between food environment and childhood obesity
The research study, led by Leeds Beckett childhood obesity expert Dr Claire Griffiths, measured the exposure of over 13,000 children in Leeds to supermarkets, takeaways and retail outlets in three relevant environments - their home, their school and their commuting route. These environments were then used to estimate the association between the food environment and the child’s weight status.
Results from the study, published today in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, revealed that there was no evidence of an association between the number or type of food outlets and childhood obesity in any of these environments. Additionally, there was no evidence of an association between the proximity to the nearest food outlet from the home or school and childhood obesity.
Speaking about the findings Dr Griffiths commented: “This study provides little support for the notion that exposure to fast food and other food outlets in the home, school and commuting neighbourhoods increase the risk of obesity in children. It seems that the evidence is not well placed to support governmental interventions and recommendations currently being proposed including zoning laws around schools and I would urge policy makers to approach policies designed to limit food outlets with caution.
In the UK, one in three children and young people (approximately 4.5 million) are overweight or obese and obesity-related illnesses cost the NHS an estimated £5.1 billion a year. The ‘food environment’, which includes any opportunity to obtain food, is a key government concern and therefore much attention has recently been focussed on action in this area, with public health professionals in the UK being encouraged to address the number of fast food outlets in their area to support healthier lifestyles.
So far research has mainly centred around food availability around schools with little research being done at household level in children. This study is the first in the UK to analyse home, school and commuting environments in a large sample of children over three years, using weight status as the outcome measure.
Previous research published by Dr Griffiths suggested that the relationship between obesity and deprivation is not the highest in more deprived groups. The study investigated the relationship between obesity and area level deprivation, based on where a child lives; in 13,333 Leeds school children over three years. Results showed that children living in the middle-affluent areas had the greatest probability of being obese according to all measures of obesity, with this relationship being more marked in girls.