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October 19, 2005

Geography of Fast Food

Fast_food_and_grocery_storesAn article in the Seattle Times today highlights another link between land use and obesity: access to healthy food. By overlaying maps (pdfs) of house prices, grocery stores, and fast food restaurant locations, UW researchers demonstrate that lower income areas, such as Kent and Auburn, have fewer grocery stores and more fast food restaurants per square mile than higher income areas, such as Ballard and Redmond. Obesity rates show a similar pattern: 27.8 percent of Auburn residents are obese compared to 7 percent of Capitol Hill/East Lake residents.

Access to safe places for exercise may be another factor. Lower income people who don't feel safe walking in their neighborhoods may not be able to afford a gym membership or even bus fare to a community center.

This is just one more link coupling poverty and obesity. Previous research has demonstrated that energy dense foods (like burgers) are generally cheaper than nutrient dense foods (like fruits and vegetables).

Healthy choices have long term benefits, but fast food is easiest in the short term especially if the grocery store is harder to get to. I'd be tempted by the grease too if the kids were hungry now, three fast food joints were closer than the grocery store, plus they're cheaper and I wouldn't have to cook or clean up.

Seems to me that a healthy lifestyle is really a choice only when your life is not overly constrained by time, money, and geography.

Posted by Jessica Branom-Zwick | Permalink


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Harper's had a cover story on this topic a couplea years ago entitled 'Let Them Eat Fat'.

Posted by: Dan Staley | Oct 20, 2005 8:08:31 AM

Instead of a raw 'sites per square mile' map, it'd be more interesting to see a 'sites per capita' map...otherwise, this just looks too much like a population density map.

Posted by: Rodney Rutherford | Oct 20, 2005 2:51:05 PM

I wonder how a map showing vegetarians/organic food consumers would compare with the two maps from above.

Posted by: wesaturtle | Oct 21, 2005 1:56:11 PM


Interesting work, but I wonder what other factors are at work here. What would happen, do you suppose, if you mapped espresso stands per square mile (or per capita - tip of the hat to Rodney R., above) against obesity rates?

On a more serious note, I'm also wondering whether they controlled for age in comparing the obesity rates in these neighborhoods and towns.

Posted by: Seth Zuckerman | Oct 28, 2005 9:49:15 AM