Are Fast-Food Restaurants Targeting Schools?

Are Fast-Food Restaurants Targeting Schools?

Healthnotes Newswire (November 3, 2005)—Fast-food restaurants cluster within walking distance from schools, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health (2005;95:1575–81).

Over the past 30 years, fast-food chains have seen dramatic increases in sales, as Americans have come to rely more heavily on meals purchased outside of the home. On average, families in the United States spend one-half of their food budget on prepared and restaurant foods. Children and adolescents make up a large percentage of the fast-food market. Among teenagers the proportion of daily calories from fast food and restaurant food has risen from 6.5% in the 1970s to 19.3% in the 1990s; about one in three children and adolescents eats fast food on a typical day. Portion sizes at fast-food chains are increasing and are now often two to five times larger than their original size.

Studies have found that when children eat fast food, they consume more fat, sugar, and total calories, and fewer fruits and vegetables, than when they don’t eat fast food. It is not surprising that many people believe that these trends in fast-food consumption have contributed to the dramatic increases in obesity among children in the United States observed in the same time period. Although the long-term effects in children of eating large amounts of fast food are not known, studies have found that high consumption of fast food in adults is linked to weight gain and insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes.

In the current study, researchers collected data regarding the locations of schools and fast-food restaurants in Chicago. The study included 1,292 schools and 613 fast-food restaurants belonging to 79 fast-food chains. The researchers created maps of these schools and restaurants and looked for patterns in the distribution of fast-food restaurants relative to school locations.

They found that a significantly greater number of fast-food restaurants were located close to schools than if the restaurants had been distributed independently of school locations. In fact, three to four times as many fast-food restaurants were clustered within a 1.5-kilometer (about 1 mile) distance from schools than was predicted by a random distribution pattern. The average distance between any school and the nearest fast-food restaurant was found to be 600 meters, a distance that can be readily walked in about 7.5 minutes. Thirty-five percent of schools had at least one fast-food restaurant within 400 meters (a 5-minute walk), and 80% had at least one fast food restaurant with 800 meters (a 10-minute walk).

The results of this report suggest that fast-food restaurants are intentionally clustered within walking distance from schools. Such a marketing tactic is a cause for concern, considering the potential adverse effects of fast food on children’s health. In light of these results, parents would be well advised to encourage healthful eating by talking to their children and providing tempting alternative choices.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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