Background: Food environment (FE) has been linked to obesity in urban areas, but there is limited information in rural areas, particularly in developing countries, where prevalence of obesity is high.
Objective: To determine the association between FE and childhood obesity using Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
Methods: A total of 218 (8-10 years) children participated in a cross-sectional study. Weight, height, and body fat were measured. Geolocation of convenience stores (CS) and participants' households was collected, and the amount of processed food (PF) in the stores was measured. The proximity to the nearest CS and the number of CS within a 250-m buffer from each participant's household was calculated using GIS. Linear regression models between obesity measurements and FE were performed.
Results: The combined prevalence of overweight and obesity was 32%. A total of 91% of the children had access to a CS within 250 m. On average, 48% of the shelf-space of the CS were occupied with PF. A positive association between the density of CS with body fat % (β = .145; 95% CI, 0.048-0.241, P = .004), abdominal fat % (β = .206; 95% CI, 0.048-0.241, P = .003), and body mass index (BMI)-for-age z-score (BMIz; β = .028; 95% CI, 0.005-0.062, P = .005) was found. Living closer to CS was associated with increases in body fat % (β = -0.009; 95% CI, -0.017 to -0.001, P = 0.025), abdominal fat % (β = -0.012; 95% CI, -0.023 to -0.001, P = 0.033), and BMIz (β = -0.002, 95% CI, -0.004 to -0.001, P = 0.003).
Conclusion: In a rural community in Mexico, a high density and low proximity to CS is associated with obesity in school-aged children.
Keywords: GIS; childhood obesity; food environment; rural areas.