A continuous exposure to fast food restaurants near work and home — and along the commute — may increase one’s chances of becoming obese.
In a new study from the United Kingdom, people most exposed to fast-food fare had an average body mass index (BMI) 1.21 points higher than those with the least exposure. They were also twice as likely to be obese, say researchers from the University of Cambridge.
“We found a highly significant association between increased exposure to takeaway food outlets and consumption of takeaway food, body mass index, and odds of obesity,” the researchers wrote this week in the British Medical Journal.
Yet in grandiloquent fashion the research consortium also noted that greater exposure to fast food stores — 48 percent more common near work than home — merely corresponded to increased BMI, but does not necessarily cause it. Still, people in the study who lived and worked closer to fast food stores consumed more food on a daily basis, the researchers noted. Those closest in proximity to fast food stores consumed 5.7 grams of food more than the least exposed group, a difference of 15 percent of more.
"In a week, this translates into an additional 39.9 grams of takeaway food," the researchers wrote. "This weekly amount constitutes more than half a small serving of McDonald's French fries [averaging 71 grams per serving] and about one-quarter of the grams of takeaway food purchased per person per week in the UK in 2010."
Naturally, the researchers speculated that greater fast food purchases among some people were less about taste and more about convenience. “We suggest that time imperatives drive food purchases from more proximal food outlets, selling ready prepared meals, which could partly explain the strong associations observed in our study between these exposures and consumption of takeaway food," they wrote.
Aside from warning fast food consumers of the obvious, the researchers suggested the findings might inform public policy decisions regarding local zoning laws. Since 2009, Waltham, England has banned the sale of hot fast food fare within 400 meters of schools, with zoning laws across the developed world taking into account such health and lifestyle factors as noise, litter, and even aesthetic concerns, they noted.
Source: Burgoine, Thomas, Forouhi, Nita G., Griffin, Simon J., Wareham, Nicholas J., Monsivais, Pablo. Associations Between Exposure To Takeaway Food Outlets, Takeaway Food Consumption, And Body Weight In Cambridgeshire, UK: Population Based, Cross Sectional Study. British Medical Journal. 2014.