New research shows that access to supermarkets and fast food is not tied to obesity in veterans.
America is the land of plenty, and on every street corner, you will find a fast-food restaurant to get you to fix filled with a fat and carb-filled delight. In recent years, new outlets and politicians alike have suggested that access to fast food might be the culprit in making Americans obese. It would seem like common sense that the more access you have to cheap, calorie-dense foods, the fatter you will become. The problem with this theory is just that. It is a theory and has limited evidence to back it up.
A study released in 2017 and published in Health Affairs looked at just such a question. The research has been based on the findings of the Weight and Veterans’ Environments Study. This research is a comprehensive observational study that looked at 1.7 million veterans from 2009 to 2014 in 382 metropolitan areas. The database used allowed researchers to review how BMI changed with each veteran and the degree of access to fast-food outlets and supercenters such as Target and Walmart stores.
The study found no evidence that either absolute or relative geographic accessibility of supermarkets, fast-food restaurants, or mass merchandisers was associated with changes in an individual’s BMI over time. Although Veterans make up a representative sample of America, this study might translate to the same finding in the general public. Veterans are unique in that they have a steady pension and are on a fixed income for longer parts of their life in general. More research is needed.
The bottom line: It is well accepted that fast food is of poor nutritious value overall. Policies that reduce access to fast food may improve eating of healthier foods but likely will do little to inhibit obesity.
Zenk, Shannon N., Elizabeth Tarlov, Coady Wing, Stephen A. Matthews, Kelly Jones, Hao Tong, and Lisa M. Powell. “Geographic Accessibility Of Food Outlets Not Associated With Body Mass Index Change Among Veterans, 2009–14.” Health Affairs 36, no. 8 (August 1, 2017): 1433–42. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2017.0122