Supermarkets serving fresh food lower childhood obesity rates

Posted: 10 May 2022 | | No comments yet

Supermarkets offering fresh food trim childhood obesity rates in New York City, according to a new research study.

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Access to supermarkets that offer fresh foods in some of New York City’s poorest neighbourhoods was linked to a one percent decline in obesity rates among public school students living nearby, a new study by NYU Grossman School of Medicine has found.

The newer supermarkets were also tied to reductions of between four percent and 10 percent in the average student BMI-z score – a measure of body weight based on the height for each age group by gender.

Although the differences were small, researchers say the results – if translated into policy changes – could have “a meaningful difference”.

To substantially lower death rates from related illnesses, the researchers behind the study state that childhood obesity rates would have to decline at least three times more than what was observed in the study. A broad health policy approach that also included subsidies for nutritious foods, restrictions on marketing of junk foods, and warning labels – like the changes taking place in the UK – could potentially make up the difference.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Paediatrics, showed that within a year after the opening of newly renovated or new supermarkets, obesity rates dropped from 24.3 percent to 23.3 percent among 22,712 school-aged children living within a half-mile of eight such stores. This reduction was compared with no change in obesity rates among more than 86,000 students who resided farther away from one of the publicly subsidised stores with more space for fresh produce and perishable foods.

“Our study highlights that one in four New York City public school kids sampled, predominantly Hispanic and Black, is obese, a worrisome sign of the depth of the problem facing children’s health in the city,” said study lead investigator and epidemiologist Pasquale Rummo. “Childhood obesity is strongly linked to long-term risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.”

“These results, however small, demonstrate that supermarket subsidies might play an effective role in addressing the complex problem of childhood obesity in America, especially among our most at-risk Hispanic and Black children,” added study senior investigator Brian Elbel.

The new study is said to be the largest investigation to date on the effects of the New York City supermarket development subsidies on childhood obesity. Previous research involved single-store studies, producing mixed results that researchers hoped the current study would help resolve. Other studies also focused on the impact of subsidies on adult obesity, while this latest study is the first to focus on children and their weight.

The researchers said that further investigation is needed into what effects, if any, modern supermarkets have on what students really purchase and consume. Elbel also added that all policy efforts designed to improve public health need to be evaluated for their long-term impact.

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