A study by researchers at Leeds Beckett University has found there is no link between the food environment and childhood obesity.

The research study, led by Leeds Beckett childhood obesity expert Dr Claire Griffiths, measured the exposure of over 13,000 children in Leeds to supermarkets, takeaways and retail outlets in three relevant environments – their home, their school and their commuting route.  These environments were then used to estimate the association between the food environment and the child’s weight status.

Results from the study, published today in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, revealed that there was no evidence of an association between the number or type of food outlets and childhood obesity in any of these environments. Additionally, there was no evidence of an association between the proximity to the nearest food outlet from the home or school and childhood obesity.

Speaking about the findings Dr Griffiths commented: “This study provides little support for the notion that exposure to fast food and other food outlets in the home, school and commuting neighbourhoods increase the risk of obesity in children. It seems that the evidence is not well placed to support governmental interventions and recommendations currently being proposed including zoning laws around schools and I would urge policy makers to approach policies designed to limit food outlets with caution.

In the UK, one in three children and young people (approximately 4.5 million) are overweight or obese and obesity-related illnesses cost the NHS an estimated £5.1 billion a year. The ‘food environment’, which includes any opportunity to obtain food, is a key government concern and therefore much attention has recently been focussed on action in this area, with public health professionals in the UK being encouraged to address the number of fast food outlets in their area to support healthier lifestyles.

So far research has mainly centred around food availability around schools with little research being done at household level in children. This study is the first in the UK to analyse home, school and commuting environments in a large sample of children over three years, using weight status as the outcome measure.

Previous research published by Dr Griffiths suggested that the relationship between obesity and deprivation is not the highest in more deprived groups. The study investigated the relationship between obesity and area level deprivation, based on where a child lives; in 13,333 Leeds school children over three years. Results showed that children living in the middle-affluent areas had the greatest probability of being obese according to all measures of obesity, with this relationship being more marked in girls.




For further details please contact Carrie Braithwaite in the Communications team at Leeds Beckett on 0113 812 3022 or email c.braithwaite@leedsbeckett.ac.uk




Notes for editors:


  • Leeds Beckett University was previously Leeds Metropolitan University.
  • Leeds Beckett University has around 32,000 students and just over 3,000 staff.
  • The Vice Chancellor of Leeds Beckett University is Professor Susan Price and the Chancellor is Sir Bob Murray CBE.
  • Leeds Beckett’s four faculties are: Arts, Environment and Technology, Business & Law, Health and Social Sciences, and Carnegie.
  • Leeds Beckett University is the only university in the UK to have achieved both the Customer Service Excellence standard, Investors in People Gold and the RoSPA Gold medal.
  • The Destination of Leavers in Higher Education (DLHE) showed that the proportion of Leeds Beckett 2012/13 graduates in work, further study or both six months after leaving university was 93.7%.