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Obesity Tied to ‘Food Swamps’ — Counties That Have More Stores Selling Unhealthy Foods — Study Finds


By Brenda Baletti, Ph.D.

Counties with higher obesity rates across the U.S. tend to have more food stores selling more unhealthy food options relative to counties with lower obesity rates, according to a report from The Urban Institute published this month.

“We find that areas of higher obesity prevalence are more likely to have greater exposure to the types of food stores likely to offer less healthy options, even when controlling for differences across counties,” the authors wrote.

In high-obesity counties, the study reported that 65.5% of food establishments are likely to be “unhealthy,” as opposed to low-obesity counties where just 51.5% of food establishments are “unhealthy.”

This was true across rural and non-rural areas.

The researchers studied the distribution of places selling groceries — things that people would eat or prepare at home — as opposed to restaurants. That was in part because research already linked high concentrations of fast food restaurants to obesity, but the role of different types of food stores is less well understood.

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