MONDAY, Aug. 1, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Teens are much more likely to eat junk food if they live in or go to school in neighborhoods with many fast food restaurants and other sources of unhealthy foods, a new study finds.
Researchers compared 2007 data on junk food consumption by California teens living in neighborhoods with high concentrations of junk food outlets, such as fast food restaurants, convenience stores, dollar stores and liquor stores, with the eating habits of teens living near healthier food outlets, such as grocery stores and farmers' markets.
The study, from the University of California Los Angeles Center for Health Policy Research, found that nearly three-quarters of the teens lived in or went to school in neighborhoods crowded with junk food outlets, and that the teens on average had more than seven times as many junk food outlets near their home or school as healthy food outlets.
Teens in neighborhoods with high concentrations of junk food outlets were 18 percent more likely to eat fast food at least twice a week and 17 percent more likely to drink soda every day, compared to teens in neighborhoods with fewer junk food outlets.
Previous research has linked consumption of fast food and soda to high caloric intake, which can contribute to diabetes and obesity.
"You are what you eat. You are, also, where you live," study co-author Susan Babey, a senior research scientist at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, said in a center news release. "And if you live in a place where there's a fast food restaurant or convenience store on every block, with few healthier alternatives, you are likely to eat more junk."
"It is a travesty that our kids have better access to liquor stores and other unhealthy food outlets than a grocery store," Dr. Robert K. Ross, president and CEO of the California Endowment, a private health foundation that funded the study, said in the news release. "We have put our children and youth in harm's way, and they are paying the price for our carelessness. If nothing is done, this will be the first generation to live shorter lives than their parents."
Because the research has not been subjected to the rigorous scrutiny required for publication in a medical journal, the data should be viewed as preliminary.
The Nemours Foundation offers advice about healthy eating for children.