Fast-food restaurants are concentrated within a short walking distance of schools, exposing children to "poor quality food environments" on a daily basis. A study of fast-food restaurants in the Chicago area found that the median distance of any school from a fast-food restaurant was about a third of a mile, a distance an adult can walk easily in five minutes.

The study, published in the current issue of the American Journal of Public Health, found almost 80 percent of schools had at least one fast-food restaurant within less than a half mile.

Fast-food restaurants were statistically significantly clustered in areas within a short walking distance from schools, with an estimated 3 to 4 times as many fast-food restaurants within one mile from schools than would be expected if the restaurants were distributed throughout the city in a way unrelated to school locations.

Last year, the Institute of Medicine called on the food industry to voluntarily restrict advertising of unhealthy food to children. The studys authors also point to possible school policies prohibiting off-campus fast food from being brought to school and zoning requirements to limit restaurants proximity to schools as ways to combat rising obesity rates among children.

Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, calls the findings "troubling.

"When you consider that fast-food chains site restaurants on kids routes to and from school," said Wootan, "its as if society is setting up families to fail. Instead of making it easy for parents to raise healthy kids, the food industry is putting kids on a fast track to obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related disease.