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Study: Children who live near fast-food restaurants more likely to be obese

Fast food
Fast food (Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Can living near a fast food restaurant impact our children’s waistlines?

According to a new study, it can.

The study looked at data on 3,507,542 children over a four-year period.

Researchers found that children who were at least a half-city block away from the nearest fast-food restaurant were between 2.5% and 4.4% less likely to be obese than children who lived closer to fast food.

Jennifer Hyland, R.D., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, did not take part in the study, but said the results are not too surprising, given the items served at fast-food restaurants are typically high in calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar.

“Unfortunately, a lot of these foods are highly processed, and they’re going to be elevated in a lot of things that we just know aren’t beneficial for kids or adults alike,” she said.

But, if fast food is the only option, according to Hyland, there are some better choices that parents can make at the counter:

  • Make sure children are eating kid-sized meals, for starters, and opt for grilled items, instead of red meat and fried foods.
  • Above all, skip the sugary soda.
  • Salads are usually a good option. If they cost a little more, consider drinking water instead of putting money towards a sugary drink.
  • If you’re bringing fast food home, you can fill in the nutritional gaps by adding healthy options to your family’s meal.

“Even if you have to get fast food, we can still think of what a balanced plate should look like,” she said. “So, bring that fast food home and heat up a frozen vegetable. There are dollar bags you can get at the grocery store, throw it in the microwave. Grab some raw baby carrots, some cucumbers, some celery and try to at least balance out that fast-food meal with some high-fibrous vegetables for the kids.”

Of course, Hyland admitted, most times, families will turn to fast food because they need something quick.

She said one way around this pitfall is to meal plan your week. That way, you can have a quick item, such as a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store or a slow cooker recipe ready to go, instead of turning to a fast-food restaurant’s drive-through.

“Oftentimes, just having a plan can be enough to have you execute it,” Hyland said.

Complete results of the study can be found in Obesity.