Healthy :: Fewer fast food outlets and more walking tracks make healthier suburbs

Reducing the density of fast food outlets and improving walking tracks could help promote healthy behavior in local communities, according to a new University of Melbourne study.

The recommendations are part of the Victorian Lifestyle and Neighborhoods Environment Study (VicLANES) report launched by Health Minister Bronwyn Pike today.

Funded by VicHealth, the three year project studied the food purchasing, alcohol consumption and exercise habits of almost 5000 people in 50 low, medium and high socio-economic status neighborhoods around Melbourne.

Principal researcher Associate Professor Anne Kavanagh says the report shows that where you live can influence what you eat, how much you exercise and even how much you weigh.
VicLANES found that compared to people who lived in high socio-economic status areas those in low socio-economic areas:

? Were less likely to exercise at levels required for good health;
? Walked less;
? Had a higher Body Mass Index, weighing 3kgs more;
? Were less likely to purchase healthy groceries;
? Were less likely to eat fruit;
? Were twice as likely to purchase fast food to eat at home on a weekly basis;
? Were just as likely to drink alcohol ? although men in lower socio-economic areas were more likely to drink to a dangerous level; and
? More likely to nominate having children as a reason for not exercising.

Lower socio-economic areas also had twice as many fast food outlets than high socio-economic areas and fewer kilometres of walking tracks.

Associate Professor Anne Kavanagh says whether you live in a richer or poorer neighborhood could be a more important factor that your actual individual income.

?Living in low income areas was still important even after we took into account the fact the individual socio-economic position of the people who lived in the areas,?? she says.

?That is, living in low socio-economic status areas is harmful for both high income and low income households.?
Associate Professor Kavanagh says even though people in lower socio-economic suburbs have more even destinations to walk to, they often say they do not feel safe walking in their local environment and that there is too much traffic.

Associate Professor Kavanagh says the VicLANES report also finds that ? contrary to popular belief – people in lower socio-economic areas have greater access to fruit and vegetables. However, they also have more access to cheap fast food.

?Even though fruit and vegetables in lower socio-economic areas were cheaper, their cost took up a greater proportion of people?s incomes,?? she says.

?Up to a quarter of people in these areas said they had trouble carrying groceries, and were more likely to run out of money to buy food, which could be influencing their shopping habits.?
VicHealth?s Chief Executive Officer, Todd Harper, congratulated Associate Professor Kavanagh and her team on their work in building evidence on the issue.

?VicHealth is pleased to support a growing body of evidence which can be shared with a range of professionals ? working in health and in other areas ? who have key roles in shaping the local environment,? Mr Harper adds.

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