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The Green Life: Fast Food and the Geography of Poor Health

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March 31, 2009

Fast Food and the Geography of Poor Health

Fast food student "After school, I go to the public library, down the street from McDonald's" explains a middle-school student in Berkeley, California.

Is it any wonder that American youth navigate their communities using fast-food restaurants as landmarks? In an interview with the New York Times, Andrew F. Puzder, the chief executive of CKE Restaurants (parent company of Carl's Jr.) recently admitted, "We decided the people we wanted to target were young, hungry guys. You set your target at a group that is cool or appealing and you get a much broader scope of people. We target hungry guys, and we get young kids that want to be young hungry guys."

It's not just calculated advertising (in this case featuring skateboarding stars) that lures young people into the jaws of an unhealthy, unsustainable diet: It's also the location of fast-food restaurants within our rural, suburban, and metropolitan landscapes. A recent study published by economists at the University of California and Columbia University, "The Effect of Fast Food Restaurants on Obesity," found that among ninth grade children, a fast-food restaurant within a tenth of a mile of a school is linked to at least a 5.2 percent increase in obesity rates.

It would seem that poor health in America can be better understood with a map of fast-food restaurants in hand. But if that's the case, then using zoning laws to prevent fast-food restaurants from ever opening near our schools may provide concerned communities with an opportunity to claim territory for a healthy future while also making room for a more sustainable diet on the American map.

--Melissa Weiss

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