A new study found “no strong evidence” that being within walking distance to food outlets was associated with being obese or not.
Researchers at UCLA and the Rand Corporation analyzed data from the California Health Interview Survey — nearly 100,000 people were included — and published their findings in Preventing Chronic Disease.
The L.A. Times picks up the story:
Given the attention to the idea of food deserts – areas with limited access to healthful food – and their effect on people’s health, the researchers wanted to find how much it mattered to have stores and restaurants within walking distance, which they defined as a mile from home.
But the number of fast-food outlets within three miles of home was associated with eating more fast food, fried potatoes and caloric soft drinks, and with less frequent consumption of produce, the researchers said. And they found that the number of large supermarkets within 1.5 miles and three miles of home was associated with drinking fewer caloric soft drinks.
They said “shopping patterns are weakly related, if at all, to neighborhoods in the United States because of access to motorized transportation.” …
“Evidence is more tentative than often presented in the news media and in policy arguments” linking obesity with the food environment, the researchers said. That is, the idea that people who live close to lots of fast-food outlets and far from big, well-stocked supermarkets are more likely to be overweight or obese, or to show other health results of poor eating habits.
“The evidence is not clear on whether promoting or discouraging a particular type of food outlet is an effective approach to promoting healthful dietary behavior and weight status,” the researchers said. Los Angeles has tried legislating the types of food outlets in South L.A. to help bring down obesity rates.