Research reveals the link between distance of shops and heart trouble

Friday, May 27, 2011

THE greater the distance people have to travel to their nearest supermarket the greater their risk of cardiovascular disease, new research shows.

Dr Richard Layte of the Economic and Social Research Institute is making the claim after researching the subject with five colleagues.

“A lot of the research out there at the moment tends to focus on individual things like food behaviour and the amount of exercise,” Dr Layte said.

“However, in the last 15 years there has been a huge increase in obesity in Ireland — people have not just suddenly changed their attitudes or lifestyles.

“Clearly, something in our environment has changed so it is important to look at that factor.”

Dr Layte and his colleagues compiled the research through SLÁN, the National Survey of Health and Lifestyles in Ireland.

Through this survey they were able to link the position of the shops to the location of the people and measured the distance people had to travel, either by walking or by car, and the density of local shops in the area.

“Every extra metre it takes to get to the shop decreases the quality of your diet. And every metre increases the risk of cardiovascular disease,” Dr Layte said.

This is the first time any such results have been found anywhere other than in the US, where the reason given was “white flight”.

The phenomenon refers to the large number of white people leaving city centres in America. This process of “ghettoisation” brought about a reduction in the number of shops, while the number of takeaways and corner shops were increased, leading to poor food availability and poorer diet.

“We don’t have anything to the same scale in Ireland but what could explain it here is, in the ’70s, people went from city centres to more rural areas with no amenities.

“In the ’90s and 2000s we added to this issue with the number of people who couldn’t afford city centre housing,” Dr Layte claimed.

“In Ireland we don’t pre-emptively look at where population is developing and provide for it. The Government doesn’t have the regulations and the structures in place to be able to make sure that we have the right infrastructure in the areas we need it.”

Obesity levels in Ireland have been rising steadily over the past number of years. Figures from 2008 showed that 38% of the population was overweight and 23% was obese.

As well as this, childhood obesity has become a more pressing issue over the past decade. Figures for 2007 showed that 23% of boys and 28% of girls aged between four and 16 were overweight or obese.

This appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Friday, May 27, 2011

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