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School and Residential Neighborhood Food Environment and Diet Among California Youth

      Background

      Various hypotheses link neighborhood food environments and diet. Greater exposure to fast-food restaurants and convenience stores is thought to encourage overconsumption; supermarkets and large grocery stores are claimed to encourage healthier diets. For youth, empirical evidence for any particular hypothesis remains limited.

      Purpose

      This study examines the relationship between school and residential neighborhood food environment and diet among youth in California.

      Methods

      Data from 8226 children (aged 5–11 years) and 5236 adolescents (aged 12–17 years) from the 2005 and 2007 California Health Interview Survey were analyzed in 2011. The dependent variables are daily servings of fruits, vegetables, juice, milk, soda, high-sugar foods, and fast food, which were regressed on measures of food environments. Food environments were measured by counts and density of businesses, distinguishing fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, small food stores, grocery stores, and large supermarkets within a specific distance (varying from 0.1 to 1.5 miles) from a respondent's home or school.

      Results

      No robust relationship between food environment and consumption is found. A few significant results are sensitive to small modeling changes and more likely to reflect chance than true relationships.

      Conclusions

      This correlational study has measurement and design limitations. Longitudinal studies that can assess links between environmental, dependent, and intervening food purchase and consumption variables are needed. Reporting a full range of studies, methods, and results is important as a premature focus on correlations may lead policy astray.
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