"We found no previous research literature that considered household income when investigating whether there were associations between fast food availability and BMI," noted Reitzel.
The study revealed that, on average, there were 2.5 fast-food restaurants within a half-mile of the participants' homes. In addition, there were an average of 4.5 of these restaurants within one mile, 11.4 within two miles and 71.3 fast food restaurants within five miles of their homes.
Living closer to a fast-food restaurant was associated with a higher BMI -- regardless of the participants' income, the study showed. On the other hand, every additional mile between the participants' homes and the closest fast-food restaurant was associated with a 2.4 percent lower BMI.
The study also found that the more of these restaurants within a particular area, the higher the participants' BMI. The researchers pointed out there was no significant association for the five-mile area.
"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," noted Reitzel.
"There's something about living close to a fast-food restaurant that's associated with a higher BMI," she pointed out. However, an association does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
"Fast food is specifically designed to be affordable, appealing and convenient," Reitzel explained. "People are pressed for time, and they behave in such a way that will cost them the least amount of time to get things done, and this may extend to their food choices."
The study authors noted lower-income residents may not have access to transportation, so having fast-food restaurants close to home might be easier.
"This may also b
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