* Study also looked at effect on pregnant women
* Researchers weigh fast-food-free zones near schools
* Retail group says zones a dangerous idea
By Leslie Gevirtz
NEW YORK, March 13 A fast-food restaurant
within about 500 feet (150 metres) of a school may lead to at
least a 5 percent increase in the obesity rate at that school,
according to a study released on Friday.
The study, conducted by economists at Columbia University
and the University California, Berkeley, suggests that "a ban
on fast foods in the immediate proximity of schools could have
a sizable effect on obesity rates among affected students."
The researchers looked at how proximity to the restaurants
affected obesity rates among 3 million ninth graders at
California schools, and more than 1 million pregnant women in
Michigan, New Jersey and Texas.
They focused on the ninth graders, typically about 14 years
old, in part because the students get a fitness test in the
spring -- about 30 weeks after starting school and exposure to
The study, released by the American Association of Wine
Economists, showed that "the presence of a fast-food restaurant
within a tenth of a mile of a school is associated with at
least a 5.2 percent increase in the obesity rate in that
It also found that pregnant women who lived within a tenth
of a mile of a fast-food restaurant had "a 4.4 percent increase
in the probability of gaining over 20 kilos (44 pounds)."
The study follows one presented last month at an American
Stroke Association conference. Researchers from the University
of Michigan found people who live in neighborhoods packed with
fast-food restaurants are more likely to suffer strokes.
In December, a study found that youth who study within a
half mile (.80 km) from a fast-food outlet eat fewer fruit and
vegetables, drink more soda and are more likely to be obese
than students at other schools.
'A DANGEROUS PRECEDENT'
Janet Currie, lead researcher of the wine economists'
study, said that if fast food near schools causes obesity, then
having a fast-food-free zone might be good policy.
"It would not be so different in spirit from existing
policies that aim to prohibit soft drinks and junk foods in
schools, or to improve the quality of school lunch," she said.
A spokeswoman for Yum! Brands, the parent company of KFC,
Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Long John Silver's, declined to
comment, saying she had not seen the study.
Burger King did not return calls seeking comment.
A McDonald's spokeswoman referred calls to the National
Retail Federation, a trade group in Washington.
"I think it would be a dangerous precedent to limit the
types of legitimate, important businesses and where they're
located in a city," federation spokeswoman Ellen Davis said.
"Doesn't it make more sense for parents to limit a child's
allowance or let them know when and where they can't eat
Davis added that restaurants have changed their menus in
the last five years, especially for children's meals.
"We see many healthy options available -- slices of apple,
milk instead of sodas ... . It's important to note that many
chain restaurants have tried to diversify their menus and make
them more healthy."
(Editing by Xavier Briand)