Background Globally, childhood obesity is a significant public health problem associated with adverse health and economic consequences. To tackle the problem, we need a comprehensive understanding on how the environment in which we live may influence obesity related behaviours and weight status. Thus, we explore if distance to and number of food outlets ( supermarkets and  convenience stores) in the local area impact on either dietary quality or body mass index (BMI) in 9-year-old children whilst controlling for socio-economic characteristics of the family.
Methods Cross sectional analysis of the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) Study, a two-stage clustered sample of 8568 nine year old children from the Republic of Ireland. Children were recruited from schools (response rate 82%) and age eligible children (response rate 57%) were invited to participate. Height and weight measurements were used to calculate BMI. Diet was assessed using a short food frequency questionnaire and a dietary quality score was generated based on Irish healthy eating guidelines. Socio-economic status was measured using parent reported household class, household net equivalised income and highest level of maternal education. Food access was measured as network distance to (in quintiles) and number of (within 1000km) convenience stores and supermarkets to each participant’s household within the local area. Separate fixed effects regression models were used to assess the impact of local area food access on (1) dietary quality and (2) BMI, stratified by gender.
Results After controlling for socio-economic characteristics of the household, distance to the nearest supermarket was not associated with dietary quality in boys (Q5 v Q1; B = 0.84, 95% CI, –0.49 to 2.18) or girls (Q5 v Q1; B = –0.41, 95% CI, –1.60 to 0.77). Distance to the nearest convenience store was associated with dietary quality in boys (Q5 v Q1; B = 1.01, 95% CI, 0.13 to 1.89) but not in girls (Q5 v Q1; B = 0.04, 95% CI, –0.71 to 0.80). The number of convenience stores or supermarkets within 1000m of the household did not impact on dietary quality. Access to food outlets was not associated with BMI in girls or boys.
Conclusion There was little evidence to suggest that access to food stores impact dietary quality or BMI in children. From a population health perspective, strategies tackling environmental factors associated with making poor lifestyle choices are needed. Thus, further research on the association between food access and obesity risk is needed.
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