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More fast food places, More obesity

December 20, 2007 | By More

If you live in a Canadian city that has more fast food places, you are at a higher risk for obesity, new research from the University of Alberta confirms. For every extra fast-food restaurant per 10,000 people, a city’s obesity rate goes up 3%, said Sean Cash, a health economics professor who drew up an obesity map that plotted obesity rates and the density of the top 10 fast-food chains in Canada. “The strong relationship really suggests that access to fast food may indeed be one of the issues that may explain increasing obesity rates,” Mr. Cash said of the study he presented earlier this year at conferences in Denmark and Oregon.”We were surprised by the strength of the relationship, but we weren’t surprised to find that there was a relationship. This has been a likely culprit that has been discussed quite a bit over the last few years. This provides support for that view.”

Mr. Cash, colleague Ellen Goddard and graduate student Ryan Lacanilao used the 2005 Business Location Database to determine the 10 fast-food chains with the most outlets across Canada. Tim Hortons, Subway, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, A&W, Dairy Queen, Harvey’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Domino’s Pizza came up as the winners. The researchers then used obesity data from the Canadian Community Health Survey released last year and matched up the data for Canada’s major metropolitan areas.

Maritime residents were generally fatter and had more fast-food outlets. St. John’s, N.L., for instance, has an obesity rate of 36% and 3.5 fast-food joints per 10,000 people. Saint John, N.B., ranked close with a 35% obese rate and access to four outlets per 10,000 people.Hamilton and Windsor in southern Ontario also ranked high in obesity and fast food outlets.Mr. Cash found no similarly strong link between obesity levels and longer commuting distances or income levels.”I wouldn’t say our study proves anything,” said Mr. Cash, noting some cities buck the trend.Halifax, for instance, has a low 18% obesity rate, but has almost four fast-food outlets for every 10,000 people. But almost 30% of Oshawa residents were obese, though they had access to only 1.8 fast-food places per 10,000. “It doesn’t mean having access to a fast-food restaurant causes obesity, but it does suggest there’s a relationship that we should be taking into account if we’re trying to take action to lower obesity rates in Canada.”

Calgary and Edmonton were fairly similar with just over three fast-food outlets per 10,000 people, but Edmonton pulled ahead in the obesity rate, with 20% obese compared with Calgary’s 26%.”As my graduates like to say, this might explain the relative difference in the merits of Edmonton versus Calgary hockey teams,” Mr. Cash said.”I think the fact that there is similar availability of fast food, but that we have lower obesity rates in Edmonton, suggests the importance of other lifestyle factors. We have less traffic congestion here; maybe people are more active.”Mr. Cash isn’t calling for a ban of fast-food restaurants, but believes city planners should make public health a factor in planning, just as they consider environmental impacts and traffic congestion.

Category: Food

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