Can where you live make you fat?

Oct 10, 2008

Rundle A, KM Neckerman, L Freeman, GS Lovasi, M Purciel, J Quinn, C Richards, N Sircar and C Weiss. 2008. Neighborhood food environment and walkability predict obesity in New York CityEnvironmental Health Perspectives doi:10.1289/ehp.11590.

Synopsis by Heather Hamlin

Americans interested in pursuing a healthy lifestyle should look closely at where they live. This new study finds that the nearer you live to unhealthy food stores, the more likely you are to be overweight. Lifestyle choices can lead to obesity, which is a growing epidemic in the United States.

A new study of New York residents found that the closer they live to fast food restaurants and unhealthy food stores, the more likely they are to be overweight. This study, which provides solid data about the association, could have considerable implications for planning residential neighborhoods that support healthy food choices and are pedestrian friendly. The United States is facing an obesity epidemic, with 6 out of 10 Americans classified as either overweight or obese according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity contributes to mortality from diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer, and places a tremendous burden on the American health care system. This study of over 13,000 adult residents evaluated the food environment and walkability of New York neighborhoods. Healthy food stores included grocery stores, fruit and vegetable markets and health food stores. Unhealthy food stores included convenience stores, pizzerias, bakeries, candy stores and of course, fast food restaurants. Intermediate stores included non-fast food restaurants and specialty stores. A noted limitation of this study, like most studies on this topic, is that it is difficult to determine if people with unhealthy lifestyles choose neighborhoods which encourage their lifestyle, or if the neighborhood actually promotes unhealthy habits.