Greater access to fast-food restaurants increases risk of diabetes, study finds

Photo (c) Ren Tsutsumi EyeEm - Getty Images

Experts say this health risk persists across the U.S.

A new study conducted by researchers from NYU Langone Health found that consumers’ proximity to fast-food restaurants may come with health risks. According to their findings, consumers have a higher chance of developing diabetes when they have greater access to fast food.

“Most studies examine the built food environment and its relationship to chronic diseases have been much smaller or conducted in localized areas,” said researcher Rania Kanchi, MPH. “Our study design is national in scope and allowed us to identify the types of communities that people are living in, characterize the food environment, and observe what happens to them over time. The size of our cohort allows for geographic generalizability in a way that other studies do not.” 

Having more fast-food restaurants nearby led to more cases of diabetes

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from 9 million people from the U.S. Veterans Health Administration. The team tracked the participants’ health for around five years and evaluated the types of restaurants that were in their neighborhoods. 

The researchers learned that participants had a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes when there were more fast-food restaurants close to their homes. Over the course of the study, over 13% of the participants developed diabetes.

Those who lived in high-density urban areas typically resided within one mile of a fast-food restaurant. Among the participants who lived in these neighborhoods, more than 14% developed diabetes. Comparatively, 12.6% of those who lived in more rural areas and had to drive to the nearest fast-food restaurant also developed diabetes. 

Moving forward, the researchers hope these findings prompt changes that could benefit consumers’ long-term health. 

“The more we learn about the relationships between the food environment and chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, the more policymakers can act by improving the mix of healthy food options sold in restaurants and food outlets, or by creating better zoning laws that promote optimal food options for residents,” said researcher Lorna Thorpe, Ph.D. 

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