Food and Behaviour Research

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A cross sectional study investigating the association between exposure to food outlets and childhood obesity in Leeds, UK.

Griffiths C, Frearson A, Taylor A, Radley D, Cooke C. (2014) Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act.   doi: 10.1186/s12966-014-0138-4. 

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Current UK policy in relation to the influence of the 'food environment' on childhood obesity appears to be driven largely on assumptions or speculations because empirical evidence is lacking and findings from studies are inconsistent. The aim of this study was to investigate the number of food outlets and the proximity of food outlets in the same sample of children, without solely focusing on fast food.


Cross sectional study over 3 years (n = 13,291 data aggregated). Body mass index (BMI) was calculated for each participant, overweight and obesity were defined as having a BMI >85(th) (sBMI 1.04) and 95(th) (sBMI 1.64) percentiles respectively (UK90 growth charts). Home and school neighbourhoods were defined as circular buffers with a 2 km Euclidean radius, centred on these locations. Commuting routes were calculated using the shortest straight line distance, with a 2 km buffer to capture varying routes. Data on food outlet locations was sourced from Leeds City Council covering the study area and mapped against postcode. Food outlets were categorised into three groups, supermarkets, takeaway and retail. Proximity to the nearest food outlet in the home and school environmental domain was also investigated. Age, gender, ethnicity and deprivation (IDACI) were included as covariates in all models.


There is no evidence of an association between the number of food outlets and childhood obesity in any of these environments; Home Q4 vs. Q1 OR = 1.11 (95% CI = 0.95-1.30); School Q4 vs. Q1 OR = 1.00 (95% CI 0.87 - 1.16); commute Q4 vs. Q1 OR = 0.1.00 (95% CI 0.83 - 1.20). Similarly there is no evidence of an association between the proximity to the nearest food outlet and childhood obesity in the home (OR = 0.77 [95% CI = 0.61 - 0.98]) or the school (OR = 1.01 [95% CI 0.84 - 1.23]) environment.


This study provides little support for the notion that exposure to food outlets in the home, school and commuting neighbourhoods increase the risk of obesity in children. It seems that the evidence is not well placed to support Governmental interventions/recommendations currently being proposed and that policy makers should approach policies designed to limit food outlets with caution.