In a special issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, a team of U.S. researchers assessed neighborhoods in Seattle and San Diego, looking at factors such as the concentration of fast food restaurants, neighborhood walkability and the availability of supermarkets and parks.
What they found was that children who lived in neighborhoods that encourage walking, with proximity to high quality parks and supermarkets stocked with healthy foods, lowered their odds of being obese by 59%.
Those who lived in neighborhoods that ranked low in both nutritional and physical environments, meanwhile, had the highest rates of obesity –- almost 16%, similar to the national average.
That percentage drops, however, to 8% among children in neighborhoods with favorable environments.
"People think of childhood obesity and immediately think about an individual's physical activity and nutrition behaviors, but they do not necessarily equate obesity with where people live," said lead author Brian Saelens. "Everyone from parents to policymakers should pay more attention to zip codes because they could have a big impact on weight."
For example, while Seattle’s King County has 1,660 fast food locations in the area, that number more than doubles in San Diego, which is home to 3,474 restaurants. On an average block, San Diego County has twofast food locations, compared to 1.1 in King County.
Meanwhile, the obesity epidemic is sweeping the developed world, manifesting itself in seemingly unlikely places.
A study out of Brazil’s Ministry of Health found that nearly half the population is overweight, a finding that clashes with images of a country known for bikini beach bodies.
Between 2006 and 2011, the percentage of overweight people increased from 43% to 49%, while the obesity rate spiked 11-16% over the same period.
Another study published last summer in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that living near fast-food restaurants was related to increased consumption, particularly among low-income men.
The findings are particularly relevant in the U.S., where the government has made the reduction of "food deserts" -- areas that lack access to healthy foods -- one of its public health priorities.
From the April 13, 2012, Prepared Foods’ Daily Update