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June 27, 2018

Junk food around schools prevalent in poorer, urban areas

Schools in urban areas with high levels of socioeconomic distress are exposed to a disproportionate amount of junk food, according to a recent study co-authored by a Michigan State University public health researcher.

The number of “junk food opportunities” – restaurants and convenience stores selling foods high in fat, salt and sugar and low in nutritional value – were found to be concentrated near elementary schools in low-income areas of London, Ont., and the results could have implications for cities in the United States.

“It basically confirmed that there’s a lot of junk food on kids’ menus in poorer neighborhoods of urban areas,” said Richard Sadler, an assistant professor in the College of Human Medicine’s Division of Public Health.

During the study, the researchers counted the number of junk food outlets in urban, suburban and rural areas around London, Ont., elementary schools. They then used a tool called the Children’s Menu Assessment to gauge the price, promotion, placement and availability of healthy options and nutrition information. This helped them identify the problem areas. A follow-up study, examining the quality of the menus at these outlets, is currently under journal review.

Sadler has conducted several health-related studies in Flint, where he is based. In the most recent study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, he collaborated with lead author Catherine DuBreck and her supervisors, Jason Gilliland and Godwin Arku, at the University of Western Ontario, where Sadler earned his doctoral degree.

Sadler said he plans to conduct a similar study in Flint with the goal of influencing public policy decisions that could lead to healthier food options for children.

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