People exposed to takeaway food outlets around their home, at work and on their way to work are more likely to become obese, medical researchers have found.
And the biggest exposure, and danger, is takeaways near work, according to a paper published in the British journal BMJ.
University of Cambridge researchers looked at the extent to which exposure to takeaway food outlets in home and non-home environments was associated with eating takeaway foods, BMI (Body Mass Index) and likelihood of being overweight or obese.
Results from a study in Cambridgeshire showed that individuals were exposed to 48% more takeaway outlets at work than at home. The average exposure combining home and work neighbourhoods and commuting routes was 32 outlets.
This kind of population study cannot prove a direct link between environments and obesity.
However, in this, the first study of takeaway food outlet exposure at home, at work and during the daily commute, the researchers found an “environmental contribution to the consumption of takeaway foods, and especially to body mass index and the odds of being obese”.
They suggest that policies designed to improve diets through restricting takeaway food availability would be most effective if focused around workplaces.
In an accompanying editorial, Kathryn Neckerman from the Columbia Population Research Center in New York says that studies like this clarify “when, where, and for whom the food environment matters”.
She says it is still unclear whether efforts to restrict takeaways will have any impact on obesity and that they are “difficult to enact”.
Restricting outlets could have cost as well as benefits. They provide entry-level jobs and ease the lives of busy families.
Instead of trying to replace these outlets, she says we should “seek to transform [them]” and that “in the food environment, what matters is the menu – what food is offered, at what price – not the venue”.
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