by Sara Mead
A new study by economists from Berkeley and Columbia University finds that 9th graders who attend schools within a tenth of a mile of a fast food restaurant are 5.2 percent more likely to be obese. Such students consume 30 to 100 more calories a day than their peers.
The good news: Having a fast food restaurant a quarter to a half mile away from the school doesn’t increase students’ risk of obesity, nor does having non-fast food restaurants in close proximity to a school. Proximity to fast food restaurants also seems to have greater impacts on youngsters’ consumption and risk of obesity than it does for adults.
Rates of childhood obesity have increased rapidly in recent years (although they currently appear to have hit a plateau). And because obese youngsters are at increased risk for obesity as adults–as well as a host of other health problems, such as diabetes and joint damage–reducing rates of childhood obesity is an important policy and public health challenge. This study suggests that changing zoning laws to prevent the location of fast food outlets within a tenth of a mile of schools could help reduce childhood obesity. The good news is that fast food restaurants a quarter of a mile or more away don’t appear to have negative impacts on youth obesity rates, so restrictions need not be especially draconian to benefit youngsters.