If you live within walking distance of McDonalds, KFC or Burger King, your children are more likely to be fat.
New evidence suggests that being within 0.6 miles (1km) of a fast food outlet plays havoc on youngsters’ waistlines.
But scientists at the University of the West of England (UWE) have been unable to conclude exactly why the link between the two exists.
The findings, which perhaps seem obvious, add to ‘existing evidence’ that shows neighbourhoods play an ‘important role’ in the development of obesity.
It is also the first study to show an association between accessibility to fast food outlets and weight gain over time.
New evidence suggests that being within 0.6 miles (1km) of a fast food outlet plays havoc on youngsters’ waistlines
How was the study carried out?
For the research, the weight of more than 1,500 state primary school children was tracked by lead author Matthew Pearce and his team.
They used weights of the children, from south Gloucestershire, between reception year (aged four to five) and year 6 (aged 10 to 11).
Children living closer to fast food outlets were more likely to gain a significant amount of weight between the first and last year of school, they found.
It mirrors research from three years ago that showed individuals who encounter takeaway outlets each day are twice as likely to be obese.
Mr Pearce said: ‘We know from national data the number of children classified as obese doubles between the first and last year of primary school.
‘Understanding the reasons for this is important to protect the future health of children. Obesity is driven by many complex factors.
‘Our study adds to existing evidence that the neighbourhood environment plays an important role in the development of obesity.’
What else did they find?
Researchers calculated a ‘fast food accessibility score’ for each child involved in the study, soon to be published in the Journal of Public Health.
NHS MAY SOON USE SHOCK TACTICS
Parents could be shown pictures of their overweight children as fat adults to shock them into tackling obesity.
Newcastle University experts developed software that shows what will happen if youngsters continue to pile on the pounds.
The programme, which is backed by the Department of Health and could be rolled out across the NHS, has already been shown to reduce a child’s weight gain.
The results, presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Portugal, showed overweight children whose parents were shown the images put on 9lb (4kg) less weight on average in the following year.
This took into account the number of fast food outlets and how many were within a distance of 0.6 miles by road of each child’s home.
The research also uncovered a higher density of fast food outlets within poorer neighbourhoods, according to study co-author Dr Issy Bray.
She said: ‘While our study tried to control for other factors that might influence a child’s weight, at this stage we can only say there is a relationship.
‘It may be the association is due to other aspects of these neighbourhoods, such as cycling and walking infrastructure.
‘Further research should be undertaken to understand how children and their families interact with the neighbourhood and environment.’
The study used data from the National Child Measurement Programme, which involves the annual weighing and measuring of primary school children.
How many fat children are there?
It comes after official Government figures released last November revealed that more children are obese than ever before.
Some 20 per cent of children starting primary school are overweight, and 33 per cent overweight by the time they start secondary school at 11.
Nearly half a million under-11s in the UK are obese, a problem which experts fear will create a boom in heart disease, diabetes and cancer in the years to come.
And being obese in childhood raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes much later in life, a major study by researchers at the University of Surrey found in May.
Children who were obese at the age of 10 were shown to have damaged arteries 25 years later – even if they lost weight in the intervening years.
While being overweight even as a young toddler changes the structure of the heart, Romanian research suggested last month.
A study of more than 400 children found the early signs of severe heart damage in those who were obese. Worryingly, the damage was seen even in babies below the age of one.