Introduction: There is growing interest in how the physical environment influences obesity. Few studies have considered how the food retail environment surrounding schools influences overweight in students.
Objective: To determine whether there is a relationship between food retailers surrounding schools and overweight among Canadian youth.
Design: Cross-sectional study. SETTING/METHODS/SUBJECTS: The number of food retailers was obtained within a 1 km and 5 km radius around 178 schools in Canada. Retailers included full-service restaurants, fast-food restaurants, sub/sandwich retailers, doughnut/coffee shops, convenience stores and grocery stores. An index of total food retailer exposure was also created. Multilevel analyses were used to control for individual- and area-level covariates.
Results: None of the individual food retailers was associated with an increased likelihood of overweight. The total food retailer index was most strongly related to overweight, but in the opposite direction to that hypothesized. At 1 km, students attending schools with at least one food retailer had a lower relative odds of overweight (OR = 0.70, 95% CI 0.61, 0.81). At 5 km, students attending schools with the highest exposure to the total food retailer index had a lower relative odds of overweight (OR = 0.56, 95% CI 0.47, 0.68) compared with students attending schools with no exposure.
Conclusions: Exposure to various types of food retailers in school neighbourhoods was not associated with an increased likelihood of overweight in Canadian school-aged youth. The opportunity to make healthy choices from a variety of options and the unique Canadian context may explain the findings.