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May 04, 2014 10:02 PM EDT

Obese Children With Supermarket Access More Likely To Lose Weight

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Obese children who live close to a supermarket are more likely to eat better and improve their weight, according to a recent study.

Researchers found that supermarket access is a key factor in obesity programs.

Urban neighborhoods and rural towns without access to fresh, healthy and affordable food are known as food deserts. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, food deserts sometimes have only fast-food restaurants and convenience stores, according to researchers.

"Few studies have looked at whether living farther from a large supermarket affects the success of interventions to improve eating habits and reduce weight," researchers said in a statement.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from a randomized, controlled trial that took place in 14 pediatric practices in Massachusetts. The trial compared two interventions to help obese children eat healthier food and improve their weight.  The first obesity program included electronic decision support to help clinicians manage obese patients, while the second intervention included decision support and parent health coaching. There also was a control group that received usual care.

Researchers found that children in the intervention groups living closer to a supermarket were able to increase their fruit and vegetable intake more than those living farther away. Those living farther away from a supermarket in the intervention groups had a larger increase in body mass index as well.

However, researchers said distance from a supermarket did not affect the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages consumed.

"As our nation strives to improve the health of our children, we must look to children's neighborhoods and provide easier, healthier choices for families," Lauren G. Fiechtner, lead researcher and fellow in the Division of Gastroenterology and Nutrition and Health Services at Boston Children's Hospital and research fellow in the Division of General Academic Pediatrics, MassGeneral Hospital for Children, said in a statement.

The findings were presented on May 3 at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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