Where You Live May Affect Your Diabetes Risk

Living near fast food outlets have been linked with a higher risk for increased blood sugar levels and Type-2 diabetes.

AsianScientist (May 10, 2022) – Whether grabbing a bite on the way home or reaching for a snack at odd hours, many people often give in to the enticing call of fast food despite the known links with diseases. Now studies are revealing that exposure to surroundings where unhealthy food is readily available could be related to lifestyle diseases.

An international research team has found that living near fast food outlets could increase the risk for type II diabetes. As published in PLoS Medicine, the analysis was based on health surveillance data from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka from 2018 to 2020.

More than 450 million people globally were living with diabetes in 2019. In South Asia, diabetes affects nearly 10 percent of adults and takes close to 750,000 lives yearly. Type 2 diabetes, which is typically associated with obesity and lack of physical inactivity, accounts for over 95 percent of the cases.

Food environments also influence the risk for developing type 2 diabetes, past studies have shown. That means the physical presence of food as well as cultural and economic contexts can affect how people engage with food and make decisions about consumption. However, there is a lack of evidence among low- and middle-income countries.

To fill this gap, researchers led by Dr. Marisa Miraldo from Imperial College Business School in the UK alongside collaborators in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India analyzed health outcomes data of over 12,000 adults in the South Asia Biobank. They also mapped the density and proximity of various food outlets such as fast-food restaurants and supermarkets surrounding the participants’ homes.

Proximity referred to having at least one food outlet within 100 meters of the participants’ home, whereas density was measured as the share of food outlets within 300 meters from the residence. After extensive statistical analyses, the team found that both the proximity and density of fast-food restaurants were linked to a greater risk for diabetes.

A higher density of fast-food outlets in an area was linked to an increase of 9.21 mg/dl blood sugar. The results also showed that just a one-percent increase in density correlated with an eight-percent rise in the likelihood of being diabetic. Moreover, living near at least one fast-food outlet elevated the chances of having higher blood sugar and receiving a diabetes diagnosis by 16 and 19 percent, respectively.

The researchers also cautioned that the study has significant limitations since they only mapped the immediate vicinity around the participants’ homes. This method fails to consider whether people tend to buy and consume food from other outlets farther from their residence.

Nevertheless, diabetes prevention strategies that target food exposure and availability could still be effective. According to the team, implementing policies specific to each demographic and locality can help create health-enabling environments to promote better diets and potentially lower diabetes incidence.

“One-size-fits-all built environment interventions have not led to improved outcomes. Future research is needed to evaluate which food environment interventions could improve diabetes outcomes in this geographical region and population,” the authors wrote.

Source: Imperial College Business School ; Photo: Shutterstock

The article can be found at: Kusuma et al. (2022) Food environment and diabetes mellitus in South Asia: A geospatial analysis of health outcome data




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