Researchers in Southampton have shown that living closer to a wider variety of food outlets is linked to a better diet in children.
What we know already
In the UK today over a fifth of children aged four to five years old are overweight or obese and by the time children reach 10 to 11 years of age this increases to a third.
Whilst obesity is a complex problem with many causes, poor diet – and taking in more energy through food than we use through activity – is at its root.
It’s also known that the local food environment can affect people’s diet and weight, and greater access to unhealthy food is linked to higher levels of obesity.
At a local level
Working with Professor Keith Godfrey, lead for nutrition at our NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, and the Southampton’s Women’s Survey team, Dr Christina Vogel and Millie Barrett carried out a study within Southampton to see if the local environment and access to food outlets here affects our children’s diets.
More than 1,000 children took part in the study and an area around each child’s home and school (where they spend most of their day-to-day time) was marked out to create an ‘activity zone’.
The number and type of food outlets within each zone was recorded and parents were asked to report what their child ate for three months.
A better range equals a better diet
Overall, the study, published in Public Health Nutrition, found that children in Southampton are exposed to more unhealthy food outlets, such as takeaways, compared to healthy food stores.
It also showed that access to a greater number and range of food outlets is linked to a better diet in children – and better access to healthier food shops, such a green grocers, was consistently linked with children having healthier diets.
Dr Vogel, senior research fellow in public health nutrition, said: “The findings show that children in Southampton have greater access to unhealthy than healthy food stores and that could be affecting their diets. Actions by local authorities to improve the balance of healthy and unhealthy stores in cities more widely could help children’s diets to be healthier.”
Posted on Thursday 11 January 2018