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Conquest - Fall 2013

Where you live may raise your risk of obesity

Recent findings show that African-American adults living closer to a fast food restaurant have a higher body mass index (BMI) than those who live further away from fast food. Published online in the American Journal of Public Health, the study was led by Lorraine Reitzel, Ph.D., assistant professor in Health Disparities Research at MD Anderson.

Data were collected from a large sample of more than 1,400 African-American adult participants taking part in the Project CHURCH research study, a collaboration between MD Anderson and Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, one of the largest Methodist churches in the United States.

The study controlled for factors that may influence a person’s BMI, including:

  • Gender and age
  • Physical activity
  • Individual household income, median neighborhood income
  • Income and education
  • Partner status and whether there were children in the home
  • Employment status
  • Residential tenure
  • Sedentary behaviors (the amount of time watching television)

Although the study indicated that the relationship between a higher BMI and proximity to fast food was stronger among those of lower incomes, it was still significant in the group with higher incomes. The data also show that every additional mile participants live from the closest fast food restaurant was associated with a 2.4% lower BMI.

“Fast food is specifically designed to be affordable, appealing and convenient,” Reitzel says. “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.” She also notes that those with lower incomes may have less access to transportation to healthier food options.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center