A new study has revealed that people living near a variety of restaurants, convenience stores, supermarkets and even fast food outlets, are less likely to be fat.

On the contrary, people who live more than a half mile away from any food outlets are more likely to be fatter.

“Having access to a range of food options in your neighbourhood affects both your energy input and output,” said Cathleen Zick, coauthor of the study and professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah. “A healthy grocery option may influence the food you choose to buy, while having multiple food destinations within walking distance might encourage you to walk, rather than drive, to your next meal,” she added.

The study suggests that placing restrictions on fast food outlets may not be effective, but that initiatives to increase healthy neighbourhood food options may reduce individuals’ obesity risks, especially if focused on low-income neighbourhoods.

Earlier, Zick and colleagues found that residents were at less risk of being obese or overweight if they lived in walkable neighbourhoods- that were more densely populated, pedestrian friendly and had a range of destinations for pedestrians.

In the study involving 500,000 Salt Lake County residents, the researchers found that nearly half of the residents enjoy a mix of food options in their neighbourhoods, while 30 percent have access to at least one retail food option and the remaining 30 percent live in “food deserts“-neighbourhoods with no retail food options.

“We expected to find that multiple food options in a neighbourhood increases the diversity of walkable destinations and that residents living in such neighbourhoods would have lower body mass indexes relative to those living in neighbourhoods with no retail food options,” said Zick.

“While we found this to be true, we were struck by the benefit low-income neighbourhoods received from having access to at least one healthy grocery option. This has significant policy and planning implications,” Zick added. The study is published in Social Science and Medicine.

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