The association between the presence of fast-food outlets and BMI: the role of neighbourhood socio-economic status, healthy food outlets, and dietary factors

Background: Evidence on the association between the presence of fast-food outlets and Body Mass Index (BMI) is inconsistent. Furthermore, mechanisms underlying the fast-food outlet presence-BMI association are understudied. We investigated the association between the number of fast-food outlets being present and objectively measured BMI. Moreover, we investigated to what extent this association was moderated by neighbourhood socio-economic status (NSES) and healthy food outlets. Additionally, we investigated mediation by frequency of fast-food consumption and amount of fat intake.

Methods: In this cross-sectional study, we used baseline data of adults in Lifelines (N = 149,617). Geo-coded residential addresses were linked to fast-food and healthy food outlet locations. We computed the number of fast-food and healthy food outlets within 1 kilometre (km) of participants' residential addresses (each categorised into null, one, or at least two). Participants underwent objective BMI measurements. We linked data to Statistics Netherlands to compute NSES. Frequency of fast-food consumption and amount of fat intake were measured through questionnaires in Lifelines. Multivariable multilevel linear regression analyses were performed to investigate associations between fast-food outlet presence and BMI, adjusting for individual and environmental potential confounders. When exposure-moderator interactions had p-value < 0.10 or improved model fit (∆AIC ≥ 2), we conducted stratified analyses. We used causal mediation methods to assess mediation.

Results: Participants with one fast-food outlet within 1 km had a higher BMI than participants with no fast-food outlet within 1 km (B = 0.11, 95% CI: 0.01, 0.21). Effect sizes for at least two fast-food outlets were larger in low NSES areas (B = 0.29, 95% CI: 0.01, 0.57), and especially in low NSES areas where at least two healthy food outlets within 1 km were available (B = 0.75, 95% CI: 0.19, 1.31). Amount of fat intake, but not frequency of fast-food consumption, explained this association for 3.1%.

Conclusions: Participants living in low SES neighbourhoods with at least two fast-food outlets within 1 km of their residential address had a higher BMI than their peers with no fast-food outlets within 1 km. Among these participants, healthy food outlets did not buffer the potentially unhealthy impact of fast-food outlets. Amount of fat intake partly explained this association. This study highlights neighbourhood socio-economic inequalities regarding fast-food outlets and BMI.

Keywords: Body Mass Index; Built environment; Fast foods; Overweight; Socioeconomic factors; Waist-Height ratio.

year of publication



  • BMC Public Health


  • van Erpecum, C.P.L.
  • van Zon, S.K.R.
  • Bültmann, U.
  • Smidt, N.

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