Objective: To examine the relationship between local food environments and obesity and assess the quality of studies reviewed.
Methods: Systematic keyword searches identified studies from US and Canada that assessed the relationship of obesity to local food environments. We applied a quality metric based on design, exposure and outcome measurement, and analysis.
Results: We identified 71 studies representing 65 cohorts. Overall, study quality was low; 60 studies were cross-sectional. Associations between food outlet availability and obesity were predominantly null. Among non-null associations, we saw a trend toward inverse associations between supermarket availability and obesity (22 negative, 4 positive, 67 null) and direct associations between fast food and obesity (29 positive, 6 negative, 71 null) in adults. We saw direct associations between fast food availability and obesity in lower income children (12 positive, 7 null). Indices including multiple food outlets were most consistently associated with obesity in adults (18 expected, 1 not expected, 17 null). Limiting to higher quality studies did not affect results.
Conclusions: Despite the large number of studies, we found limited evidence for associations between local food environments and obesity. The predominantly null associations should be interpreted cautiously due to the low quality of available studies.
© 2015 The Obesity Society.