Fast food too convenient to schools

New research funded by the Heart Foundation adds weight to concerns about school children having easy access to junk food and fast food.

The recently-published study found that most New Zealand schools have a convenience store or fast-food outlet within walking distance.

Thanks to our generous donors, the Heart Foundation was able to fund the study conducted by a team of three researchers at Auckland University.

Lead researcher Dr Stefanie Vandevijvere says the prevalence of unhealthy food outlets around Kiwi schools is making it too easy for children to make poor food choices.

“There’s not just one thing that’s going to solve the problem of child obesity,” she says. “But the environment within schools and around schools is definitely one of the key areas to address, because children are exposed to this every day.”

The researchers mapped fast food, takeaway and convenience outlets across the country using information from regional councils, to determine how many outlets were within 800m of a school.

The study, which has been published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found 69% of urban schools have a convenience store within 800m, and 62% have a fast-food or takeaway shop within that distance.

The findings are in line with what the researchers expected.

“But there had been no national data on school food zones to actually show this,” says Dr Vandevijvere.

While policy changes could help improve the situation in the longer term, Dr Vandevijvere says communities can take action now to improve the food options available to school children.

She points to Rhode Street School in Hamilton, where the student council asked nearby stores to stop selling junk food to kids in school uniforms before and after school. Many stores agreed.

“If more of these examples happen and more communities take action, there might be a snowball effect.”

Thank you to our generous donors who helped make this research possible.