Study Finds More Fast Food Near Schools

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    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/23/AR2005082300855.html


    Study Finds More Fast Food Near Schools

    By LINDSEY TANNER
    The Associated Press
    Tuesday, August 23, 2005; 8:29 PM

    CHICAGO -- The big Burger King sign across the street from a high
    school campus advertises this temptation: "2 Whoppers for $3."

    The scene is repeated throughout Chicago, where fast-food restaurants
    are clustered within easy walking distance of elementary and high
    schools, according to a study by Harvard's School of Public Health. The
    researchers say the pattern probably exists in urban areas nationwide
    and is likely contributing to the nation's obesity epidemic.



    A Burger King restaurant is seen across the street from the Orr High
    School campus in Chicago on Friday, Aug. 19, 2005. Researchers in a
    study by Harvard's School of Public Health, say the pattern of fast
    food restaurants clustered within walking distance to schools is likely
    present in urban areas across the country and is likely contributing
    the nation's obesity epidemic. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green) (M. Spencer
    Green - AP)
    "It can be very hard for children and teens to eat in healthy ways when
    they're inundated with this," said lead author Bryn Austin, a
    researcher at Harvard and Children's Hospital Boston.

    Nearly 80 percent of Chicago schools studied had at least one fast-food
    restaurant within a half mile. Statistical mapping techniques showed
    there were at least three times more fast-food restaurants located less
    than a mile from schools than would be expected if the restaurants had
    been more randomly distributed, the researchers said.

    Austin said Chicago was chosen because some of the researchers had
    previous expertise in the city, and she noted that Chicago has a
    diverse population that likely reflects what is happening in other
    urban areas.

    Previous studies have shown that on a typical day, almost one-third of
    U.S. youngsters eat fast food, and that when they do, they consume more
    calories, fats and sugars and fewer fruits and vegetables than on days
    when they don't eat fast food, the researchers said.

    The findings beg the question of whether fast-food companies
    intentionally locate their restaurants near schools to make them easily
    accessible to young people, some of their key customers, Austin said.

    "We know that a great deal of thought and planning goes into fast-food
    restaurant site location," and that children "are very important to the
    market," Austin said.

    McDonald's Corp. spokesman Walt Riker said the fast-food giant locates
    its restaurants "in high-traffic areas like every other business, to
    serve customers. It has nothing to do with schools." He called the
    study assumptions speculative since the researchers didn't assess
    whether proximity of fast food affected students' eating habits.

    Burger King did not return several phone messages seeking comment.

    If students were to take advantage of the Whopper special outside the
    Chicago campus, it would lead to a sizable calorie and fat intake.

    Two "Original" Whoppers have 1,400 calories _ over half of them from
    fat, according to Burger King's Web site. Government nutrition
    guidelines for children aged 4 to 18 recommend a daily total of between
    1,400 and 3,200 calories, depending on age, gender and activity level,
    and that no more than 35 percent of calories come from fat.


    The study was released Tuesday in the September issue of the American
    Journal of Public Health.

    The researchers compiled 2002 data on 613 fast food restaurants and
    1,292 public and private schools in Chicago. Sources included Technomic
    Inc., a food industry market research company that publishes a list of
    leading fast-food chains. Restaurants and schools for which addresses
    could not be found were excluded, but the researchers said the report
    includes at least 90 percent of both.



    A Burger King restaurant is seen across the street from the Orr High
    School campus in Chicago on Friday, Aug. 19, 2005. Researchers in a
    study by Harvard's School of Public Health, say the pattern of fast
    food restaurants clustered within walking distance to schools is likely
    present in urban areas across the country and is likely contributing
    the nation's obesity epidemic. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green) (M. Spencer
    Green - AP)
    An estimated 16 percent or more than 9 million U.S. children aged 6 to
    19 are seriously overweight or obese, numbers that have tripled since
    1980.

    Children in Chicago are more than twice as likely to be overweight when
    they enter kindergarten than children elsewhere, so the study is
    especially troubling, said Dr. Matt Longjohn, executive director of the
    Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children.

    One solution is to "change demand" and make healthy food choices more
    accessible, Longjohn said.

    Chicago's public schools are among districts that have eliminated
    junk-food and soft drinks from campus vending machines in an effort to
    tackle the problem, but the researchers said the clustering of
    fast-food restaurants near schools may be undermining those efforts.

    "We can't really tell our students not to go to fast-food restaurants;
    all we can do is to educate them about what healthy food choices are,"
    said Mike Vaughn, a spokesman for Chicago's public schools.

    ___

    On the Net:

    American Journal of Public Health: http://www.ajph.org

    Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children: http://www.clocc.net
     
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