School near fast-food joint? Expect fatter kids

Fri Mar 13, 2009 7:47pm EDT
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By Leslie Gevirtz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A fast-food restaurant within about 500 feet of a school may lead to at least a 5 percent increase in the obesity rate at that school, according to a study released on Friday.

The study, conducted by economists at Columbia University and the University California, Berkeley, suggests that "a ban on fast foods in the immediate proximity of schools could have a sizable effect on obesity rates among affected students."

The researchers looked at how proximity to the restaurants affected obesity rates among 3 million ninth graders at California schools, and more than 1 million pregnant women in Michigan, New Jersey and Texas.

They focused on the ninth graders, typically about 14 years old, in part because the students get a fitness test in the spring -- about 30 weeks after starting school and exposure to fast food.

The study, released by the American Association of Wine Economists, showed that "the presence of a fast-food restaurant within a tenth of a mile of a school is associated with at least a 5.2 percent increase in the obesity rate in that school."

It also found that pregnant women who lived within a tenth of a mile of a fast-food restaurant had "a 4.4 percent increase in the probability of gaining over 20 kilos (44 pounds)."

The study follows one presented last month at an American Stroke Association conference. Researchers from the University of Michigan found people who live in neighborhoods packed with fast-food restaurants are more likely to suffer strokes.

In December, a study found that youth who study within a half mile from a fast-food outlet eat fewer fruit and vegetables, drink more soda and are more likely to be obese than students at other schools.   Continued...

<p>A flag blows in the wind above a McDonald's restaurant in Encinitas, California July 21, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Blake</p>