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Fast-Food Chains Found Clustered Around Schools

Study Shows Fast-Food Restaurant Locations Are 3-4 Times More Likely Near Your Local Schools
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WebMD Health News

Aug. 23, 2005 -- More and more, fast-food restaurants are staking out locations within easy walking distance of schools, exposing children to poor-quality foods, according to a new study.

The findings add weight to the growing argument that the availability of high-calorie, low-nutrition fast foods play a role in the nationwide epidemic of obesity among children.

That's the conclusion of a new study by researchers at Children's Hospital Boston and the Harvard School of Public Health. The study appears in the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers show that on average fast-food restaurants were located less than 1 mile away from any school in Chicago. They estimate that fast-food restaurants were three to four times more likely to be within less than 1 mile from a school than what would have been expected had the restaurant been distributed throughout the city in a way unrelated to schools.

"This means that five days a week, we are sending our school children into environments where there is an abundance of high-calorie, low-nutritional-quality, inexpensive food," says researcher Bryn Austin, MD, of Children Hospital Boston's division of adolescent and young adult medicine, in a news release.

Poor Nutrition a Culprit

Nationwide during the past three decades, fast-food retail sales have increased 900%, from $16.1 billion in 1975 to $153.1 billion in 2004, according to the study.

Previous research done by the authors in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that almost a third of children and teens eat fast food on a typical day. Compared with days in which children do not eat fast food, they consume more calories, fat, and sugar and fewer fruit and vegetables, write the authors.

Obesity Rampant Among Youth

The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980, says the CDC. Among children and teens aged 6-19, 16% (more than 9 million young people) are considered overweight. Being overweight and obese puts them at greater risk for many diseases including heart disease and diabetes.

The psychological ramifications can be debilitating as well. Children who are obese or overweight are often teased, which can lead to depression and low self-esteem.

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