The relationship between fast food and obesity has been well documented in science. However, a new set of findings from a study led by researchers at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston reveals a direct, quantifiable connection between low-income African Americans’ body mass index and their close geographical proximity to fast food.
The study, which was led by Lorraine Reitzel, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Health Disparities Research at MD Anderson, recently published the study in the American Journal of Public Health, outlining how there is a direct correlation between the density of fast food restaurants within two miles of African-American communities and their BMI. The study looked at a large sample of test subjects of more than 1,400 adult African-American participants from a research study known as the Project CHURCH research study, wherein the Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston collaborated with MD Anderson directly in conducting this study.
Dr. Reitzel explained that, “According to prior research, African-Americans, particularly women, have higher rates of obesity than other ethnic groups, and the gap is growing. The results of this study add to the literature indicating that a person’s neighborhood environment and the foods that they’re exposed to can contribute to a higher BMI.” Because obesity is inextricably linked to a high prevalence of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes — all diseases which affect the African-American community significantly — Dr. Reitzel’s study helps to establish a starting point for realizing which environmental factors contribute to the increase in these diseases.
BioNews Texas columnist M.W. Byrne recently published an article that reported on a related MD Anderson-led study, which revealed that obesity in African-Americans might be genetic. These two studies together combine to reveal that both genetic predisposition and environmental factors may both conspire to substantially increase obesity in African-American community. Because fast food tends to be value priced, together with lower-income transportation limitations, these two factors appear to funnel a higher percentage of African-Americans into fast food restaurants.
According to Science Blog:
On average there were 2.5 fast food restaurants within a half mile, 4.5 within a mile, 11.4 within 2 miles and 71.3 within 5 miles of participants’ homes. “We found a significant relationship between the number of fast food restaurants and BMI for within a half-mile, one-mile and two-miles of the home, but only among lower-income study participants,” said Reitzel. The data showed the greater the density, the higher the BMI. There was no significant association for the five-mile area.
Environmental factors are fast becoming key identifiers for disease prevalence, and are joining genetic-based findings to help create a clearer picture on all of the factors that lead of diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease which often dominate certain specific demographics. Similar research into the genetic predispositions of Breast Cancer Occurrence in Latin Women, for example, also notes that lower-income Latino communities, which often have less access to preventative healthcare resources, are adversely affected by genetic tendencies that are aggravated by environmental, economic, and sociological factors.
While genetic manipulation is still on the vanguard in medicine, identifying environmental factors into disease like the ones outlined in this new MD Anderson study are easier to address, offering encouraging news that deadly diseases can be mitigated in the communities where they are most present.