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Where You Live, Not Shop, May Affect Weight Most

Armen Hareyan's picture

Obesity and limited selection of health food

For years, researchers have been trying to document a connection between obesity among the poor and the limited selection of healthy foods in their local grocery stores. Now, a new study suggests the relationship might be even more complicated than previously thought.

Where people live may influence their food choices as much or more than where they themselves shop, said study lead author Sanae Inagami, M.D., a researcher with the Rand Corporation in Los Angeles.

"My feeling is that your neighbors do influence your health," Inagami said. "Who you know and where you go shopping is related to your level of obesity."

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Inagami and her colleagues examined census figures from 2000 and linked them to 2,144 Los Angeles County residents who were surveyed about their eating and health habits from 2000 to 2002. The researchers report their findings in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

According to the study, residents who lived in poor neighborhoods and shopped in even poorer neighborhoods were more overweight than those who shopped in grocery stores in wealthier areas.

The shopping habits of neighbors were also an important factor. A 5-foot-5-inch person who lived in a poor neighborhood whose neighbors shopped in a wealthier area would weigh an average 9.2 pounds less than if he or she lived in a poor neighborhood whose residents shopped in a poorer area.

Why does this matter? "I don't think we are