The fast food availability has a major effect on obesity and nutritional health at the neighborhood level, according to a new study.

Daniel Kruger, research professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and the study’s lead researcher, said the study’s authors were interested in examining how community factors influence health outcomes.

“We found a strong relationship between fast food restaurant density within 2 miles and obesity and lower fresh fruit and vegetable consumption,” he told the AFRO. “The implication is that even when you educate people about health and nutrition what they actually do is going to be influenced by the food environment around them. And if what they have around them is fast food then that’s what they are going to eat.”

People with no fast-food outlets in their neighborhood usually met the recommended consumption of five fruits and vegetables per day, while those who had the average number of fast-food outlets (eight) in their neighborhood did not, the study found.

The “Speak to Your Health” phone survey was conducted in Genesee County (Flint), Mich., with 1,345 residents participating. At the time of the survey, Kruger said, there were no supermarkets in the area—only convenience stores.

The researchers gathered information on the availability of fast food in the participant's neighborhood, consumption of fruits and vegetables, and weight and height to determine the body mass index.

The team factored in the other causes of obesity, including gender, race, age, exercise habits, causes of stress such as crime, and proximity of parks and recreation spaces.

“Even controlling for all of those known factors, people who had more fast-food restaurants nearby had higher BMI,” Kruger said in a statement.

Local efforts to bring fresh-food markets and community gardens represent long-term solutions, he said. Health promotion groups armed with evidence of the impact of fast food could consider launching campaigns to educate people about making healthier choices in order to create market-driven incentives for fast food outlets to offer healthier meal options.

Kruger said he also hopes policy makers would consider setting across-the-board healthy food standards.

“This along with other research will hopefully steer policy,” he said.

While Kruger’s study is not the first to study the correlation between the prevalence of fast-food restaurants, lack of fresh food options and obesity, he said it is the first to use more sophisticated geocoding methodology that delves past zip codes to the individual neighborhoods level. The method allows “more precise and direct analysis with geographically identified data,” the researchers, led by Kruger, wrote in an article in the American Journal of Health Promotion.