Cars and neighborhoods factor into weight gain


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More evidence that where you live can affect your health: A new study finds that living in an area populated by fast food restaurants and not having a car may make your weight climb.

Although other studies have suggested that living in proximity of fast food restaurants can bump up weight, this one also factored car ownership into the mix.


Using information on 2,156 adults from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Study database, researchers looked at connections between body mass index, the concentration of restaurants in a neighborhood, and whether or not someone owned a car.

On average, those in the lower middle socioeconomic status areas had the highest total number of restaurants, compared with those in the very high socioeconomic status areas, which had the lowest. Fast food outlet density was highest for those in the lower middle socioeconomic status areas.

Among those studied, car owners on average weighed 8.5 pounds more than those who didn’t own cars. But non-car owners who lived in neighborhoods with a high concentration of fast food restaurants weighed 12 pounds more than non-car owners in areas without fast food restaurants, and 2.7 pounds more than those who owned cars and lived in areas with many fast food restaurants.

Those who weighed the least didn’t own a car and lived in areas without any fast food restaurants.

In the study, the authors wrote, ‘While all residents appear to be affected by the concentration of restaurants, the magnitude of the effect of fast food outlets is much smaller for residents able to travel by car than for individuals without cars. Car ownership may reduce the local effect of fast food outlets in the neighborhood, while lack of car access appears to exacerbate it. Those who do not own cars may be more likely to visit fast food outlets than most costly full-service restaurants in their neighborhood.’

The study appears in the September issue of the Journal of Urban Health.


-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times