DIET
July 23, 2010

Convenience Stores Raise Risk of Obesity

That store on the corner with its bags of snacks and tall sugary drinks is a hazard to your waistline, a study has found.

A study from the University of Buffalo suggests that people living near convenience stores are likely to weigh more. The study, of 172 women living in a neighborhood in Erie County, NY, also found that the more restaurants or snack food-packed convenience stores there were within a five minute walk of a person's home, the higher their weight was likely to be.

The study was designed to investigate the high rate of obesity among women living in highly walkable inner city neighborhoods. The authors consider this somewhat of a paradox, since living in a walking-friendly environment should lead to less obesity.

What surprised the authors was that people who lived a short walk away from many restaurants tended to have a high BMI. Apparently, it's not enough to live in a neighborhood where walking is the norm; it depends on exactly where you're walking...

One result that wasn't surprising was that women in the study who lived relatively close to supermarkets or grocery stores tended to have a lower BMI than women who lived closer to convenience stores. Convenience stores are notorious for their offerings of snack foods and soda. Grocery stores sell these foods too, but at least they have a produce section, giving a shopper a chance to make some healthy food purchases.

What surprised the authors was that people who lived a short walk away from many restaurants tended to have a high BMI. Apparently, it's not enough to live in a neighborhood where walking is the norm; it depends on exactly where you're walking or, as the authors put it, the built environment of the neighborhood. When the route you're walking is dominated by restaurants, your weight tends to be higher.

In many ways the study raises as many question as it answers. For one thing, it did not differentiate between types of restaurants: fast food chains and swanky restaurants were all lumped together, despite the vast differences in the type of food that they serve. And the study did not investigate where residents did their food shopping, only how close the people lived to supermarkets, grocery stores and convenience stores.

What it does show are the ways in which the food offerings and general environment where people live affect their weight. More studies are needed to establish authoritatively which factors in a neighborhood are responsible for higher weight residents and which factors lead to lower weights.

An article on the study was published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Planning Education and Research.

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