The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates obesity to be a contributing factor to millions of dollars in health care costs and anywhere from 100,000 to 400,000 deaths a year. Easy access to less healthy foods such as fast food has helped widen the gap between ethnic groups when it comes to body mass index (BMI), according to researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
A study, published this week in the American Journal of Public Health, found African-American adults living close to a fast food restaurant are more likely to have a higher BMI than those living farther away. The study also found that those living within 2 miles of a fast food restaurant with income of $40,000 or less were strongly associated with having a higher BMI.
A person is considered overweight with a BMI between 25 and 29, and considered obese with a measurement of 30 and over. Current research shows that African-Americans experience the highest rate of obesity with 38.8 percent of black men being obese and 58.5 percent of black women being obese.
"In fact, African-American women have the highest rates of obesity compared to Caucasians and Hispanics in the U.S.," said Lorraine Reitzel, Ph.D., assistant professor in MD Anderson's Department of Health Disparities Research and lead investigator on the study.
The study examined associations of fast food restaurant density around the home and the proximity to the home of 1,467 participants from the Project CHURCH study - MD Anderson's collaborative project with Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston.
Most fast foods tend to be high in calories and fat, and cause weight gain, especially if a person is not burning the calories with physical activity. "People are looking for convenience on a low budget," Reitzel said. "Fast food is affordable and easily accessible to those living in low-income environments."
The study found that every additional mile participants lived from the closest fast food restaurant was associated with a 2.4% lower BMI.
Reitzel said further research is needed. "Longitudinal studies of where people are eating, what they are eating and how many times a week they are eating at fast food restaurants would be beneficial to helping us understand the behaviors and how to develop interventions to deal with this problem."
MD Anderson news release