New research from UWE has indicated that living closer to fast food outlets is linked to weight gain in children.
Academics sampled more than 1,500 primary school children in South Gloucestshire, tracking the weight of children between reception year (aged four to five) and Year 6 (aged ten to 11).
Lead researcher Matthew Pearce believes this raises valuable questions about the influence of local food environment and its impact on young children.
National data already shows that the number of children classified as obese doubles between the first and last year of primary school.
“Understanding the reasons for this is important to protect the future health of children,” Pearce said.
“Obesity is driven by many complex factors. Our study adds to existing evidence that the neighbourhood environment plays an important role in the development of obesity.”
Though findings relating to the link between weight gain and accessibility to fast food outlets has been made before, the UWE study is the first to show the link between accessibility and weight gain over time.
The study also found a higher density of fast food outlets within more deprived neighbourhoods.
Pearce hopes for more to be done to help children lead healthier lives: “While ultimately it is down to individuals in how they choose to live, it is widely accepted that we live in environments that make managing our weight increasingly difficult.
“We therefore need national and local policymakers to take decisions that support more favourable conditions that enable people to eat healthier and become more physically active.”
UWE public health lecturer Dr Issy Bray, who also worked on the study, highlights the wider elements which may be part of the association.
“While our study tried to control for other factors that might influence a child’s weight, at this stage we can only say there is a relationship,” she said.
“It may be the association is due to other aspects of these neighbourhoods, such as cycling and walking infrastructure.
“Further research should be undertaken to understand how children and their families interact with the neighbourhood and environment.”
Read more: Fast food exclusion zone around schools