Blaming fast food outlet proximity for obesity

According to a UCLA study (found via Planetizen):

Higher rates of diabetes and obesity occur in neighborhoods — regardless of the residents’ income, race or ethnicity — where fast-food restaurants and convenience stores greatly outnumber grocery stores and produce vendors, according to a statewide study released today.

But is this correlation the same thing as saying that fast food outlet proximity causes obesity?

Or, could we say instead that communities with high numbers of obese people attract fast food restaurants?

Actually the study offers two intriguing countermeasures regardless of causality.  Requiring fast food restaurants to post calorie and fat content information is one, which is fairly obvious and not directly about cities.

The other suggestion is for cities to look at zoning restrictions.  That is, use city bylaws to limit the spread of fast food.

While I’m not sure this is that feasible, the broader point is worth pondering.  I would ask: In what ways do city development guidelines and urban infrastructure support fast food outlets at the expense of green grocery stores and other types of food vending.

For example, consider the size of commercial spaces.  In some older urban neighborhoods, store fronts are small and each 25 foot space (or less) is often separately owned by a different family.  This structure tends to support small family run cafes, delis, grocery stores etc.  In newer neighborhoods the average retail space is huge — the only business that can afford it is a big chain grocery store (meaning a neighborhood would only have one grocer instead of many) or a fast food chain.

Also, the study did not examine walkability, which is also related to urban structure.  Are there sidewalks?  Does the city allow and support commercial zones within walking distance to most people?   From this study’s results, one could surmise that the neighborhoods with more grocery stores than fast food outlets are also more walkable than the others.


  1. Charles Rostkowski says:

    And don’t forget those pesky natural impediments to walking. First, topogrphy. If a city has hills then walking becomes unplesant to all but the physically fit who have time on their hands. And climate also plays a role. Here in the northern Rockies there are only a few months of the year when walking is a plesant experience. Most cities in the west are laid out in large blocks that under the hot summer sun cry out for air-conditioned cars. And don’t even talk to me about walking around in the winter. Sidewalks are important, but there are other factors.

  2. It’s more about the organization of the sales of food, chaining up, and the need to develop alternative business forms in order to create smaller footprint groceries.

    E.g., if I asked you to open a grocery store, you’d probably freeze up. But if you divided it into departments–the butcher, the seafood part, dairy, nonperishables, produce, poultry, bakery, coffe and tea, prepared foods/catering–you could bring 9 people together to pull it off.

    Most chains think in ever larger formats, from 65,000 s.f. to more than 130,000 s.f. And that just doesn’t work in the city. It’s not necessary.

    And the smaller format chains (Fresh Market, etc.) are less interested in traditional cities because of shrinkage (theft), the difficulty of hiring and retaining qualified staff, and their still suburban orientation.

    The fast food thing is something else. It’s about teaching people how to eat more than anything. I have a recent entry about that.

  3. the best solution for obesity is none other than Exercise and Proper diet. i would try to avoid slimming pills or fat burning food supplements

  4. Caramoan8 says:

    The only way you can manage obesity is throught Proper Diet and lots of exercise. The human body is designed for work so we should always get some form of physical exercise to stay fit.

  5. Bridgette says:

    Obesity and diabetes is a growing problems nowadays. It is caused by todays lifestyle which does not involve lots amount of exercise. Most people are just happy sitting in their office chair and they do not even want to sweat.

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