According to a UK House of Commons (government) briefing, 28.7% of adults in England are obese. A further 35.6% are overweight but not obese. The reasons for this are not clear, however some have suggested that the mode of food consumption may play a role. That is eating out versus eating at home and the choices people make in this regard. Following this logic the density of restaurants could influence people’s choices and potentially have an impact on the obesity rate.
A new study with senior author John Speakman of the University of Aberdeen, UK, investigated the relationship between restaurant density and several indicators of obesity within the UK Biobank dataset. The results were published in the journal Nutrients. The study was possible as people participating in the UK biobank provided their post code district (approximate location) in an anonymized form.
Apparently, greater density of fish and chip shops in particular postcode districts were associated with increased obesity measures in both males and females. One must, however, remember that the demographics of a particular area will influence the decisions of entrepreneurs to open said shops in those areas. The authors noted that “fish and chip meals could be more culturally preferable among middle-aged adults when they eat out compared to fast food.”
The main limitations of the study are selection bias, e.g. older British caucasian adults, and that correlation does not imply causation. As the participants in the study were between 40 and 69 years old one must question when in fact they became obese and whether the postcode district they lived in at the time of the study bore any relevance to their contemporanious condition.
“We found that fish and chip shops are significantly associated with obesity in middle-aged adults in the UK. For other types of food outlets, similar to studies in the USA, we found no or negative relationships between the densities of these food outlets and the adjusted means of the obesity measures. Paying attention only to fast food and full-service restaurants in intervention policy will likely not be very effective. Policy intervention should consider deep-fried fish and chip shops and other deep-fried food served in such restaurants,” concluded the authors.