Drawing on data from FIVE years of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), an annual telephone health survey of the adult population of the US and the 2002 U.S. Economic Census, the researchers examined the relationship between restaurant availability and weight status in 544 U.S. counties. This resulted in over 700,000 BRFSS respondents, representative of approximately 75% of the 2002 U.S. population.
The researchers found that a higher total restaurant density is significantly associated with lower weight status. However, once the restaurants are split into components: fast food and full service, a higher full-service restaurant density is significantly associated with lower weight status. in contrast, a higher fast-food density is associated with higher weight status.
Writing in the article, Neil Mehta, MSc, Population Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania, and Virginia W. Chang, MD, PhD, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, state, "The results reported here demonstrate that the restaurant environment is associated with weight status net of individual- and county-level factors. The relationship is complex, suggesting that the restaurant environment's influence goes well beyond a simple positive association between restaurant density and weight status. Rather, different components of the restaurant environment exhibit differential associations with weight status. Individuals residing in areas with a high density of total and full-service restaurants exhibit lower weight status, possibly indicating that these areas possess a more advantageous eating environment ... Those who reside in areas possessing a higher relative number of fast-food to full-service restaurants have a higher weight status. Hence, the relative availability of alternative types of away-from-home eating establishments may most accurately capture the set of food choices available to individuals and may be salient in determining eating behaviors and ultimately weight status. Results from this study support the notion that fast-food restaurants are a contributor to obesogenic environments."
From the January 21, 2008, Prepared Foods e-Flash