Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Relation between local food environments and obesity among adults

John C Spence1*, Nicoleta Cutumisu1, Joy Edwards2, Kim D Raine3 and Karen Smoyer-Tomic4

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

2 Capital Health, Edmonton, Canada

3 Centre for Health Promotion Studies, School of Public Health, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

4 Department of Geography, University of Delaware, Newark, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2009, 9:192  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-192

Published: 18 June 2009



Outside of the United States, evidence for associations between exposure to fast-food establishments and risk for obesity among adults is limited and equivocal. The purposes of this study were to investigate whether the relative availability of different types of food retailers around people's homes was associated with obesity among adults in Edmonton, Canada, and if this association varied as a function of distance between food locations and people's homes.


Data from a population health survey of 2900 adults (18 years or older) conducted in 2002 was linked with geographic measures of access to food retailers. Based upon a ratio of the number of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores to supermarkets and specialty food stores, a Retail Food Environment Index (RFEI) was calculated for 800 m and 1600 m buffers around people's homes. In a series of logistic regressions, associations between the RFEI and the level of obesity among adults were examined.


The median RFEI for adults in Edmonton was 4.00 within an 800 m buffer around their residence and 6.46 within a 1600 m buffer around their residence. Approximately 14% of the respondents were classified as being obese. The odds of a resident being obese were significantly lower (OR = 0.75, 95%CI 0.59 – 0.95) if they lived in an area with the lowest RFEI (below 3.0) in comparison to the highest RFEI (5.0 and above). These associations existed regardless of the covariates included in the model. No significant associations were observed between RFEI within a 1600 m buffer of the home and obesity.


The lower the ratio of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores to grocery stores and produce vendors near people's homes, the lower the odds of being obese. Thus the proximity of the obesogenic environment to individuals appears to be an important factor in their risk for obesity.