Diabetes danger: Back away from the Burger King!

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My wife and I are thinking about moving. As we've been looking at various apartments, we've had to consider the standard questions: how close is it to the subway, what is the nearest hospital, do the drug dealers seem friendly, what's the homicide rate, how many pairs of shoes are dangling from the nearby power lines...

You know, the standard Bronx questions.

One issue that we've never considered is the distance between our home and the nearest McDonald's. However, a recent study has revealed that our proximity to fast-food restaurants and convenience stores might be among the most important considerations when we choose our next home.

Apparently, neighborhoods in which junk food joints outnumber grocery stores exhibit much higher levels of obesity and diabetes than areas where the opposite is the case. This, by the way, is true for all people, regardless of race, social class, and economic position.

The study, conducted by UCLA's Center for Health Policy and a pair of nonprofit health advocacy groups, proposed a new environmental measure: RFEI, or "Retail Food Environmental Index." Basically, RFEI is the total number of fast food restaurants and convenience stores in an area, divided by the the number of grocery stores, supermarkets, farmers' markets, and other fresh produce vendors in the area. The average RFEI in California was 4.5, which means that, for every produce retailer in a Californian's neighborhood, there are 4.5 junk food palaces.

The study showed that California adults who lived in an area with a RFEI of 5 or higher had a 23% greater chance of having diabetes and a 20% greater chance of being obese than those living in an area with an RFEI of 3 or less. Needless to say, junk food purveyors quickly got up in arms, proclaiming that individuals are responsible for their food choices and that "[Suggesting] that living near a quick-service restaurant is a health threat akin to living next to a coal plant is ludicrous."

Personally, I'm not so sure. I used to work near a coal plant, and the filters on the stack meant that I rarely had to deal with any nasty smells or evil particulates. On the other hand, the McDonald's that I had to pass on the way home consistently put out the tantalizing scent of bubbling fries, a health threat that I found much more dangerous. More to the point, my daughter already recognizes the distinctive Dunkin' Donuts logo and she's only two and a half. Like Pavlov's dog, she starts drooling whenever we get within sight of one.

I wonder if I can find an apartment near a farmers' market...

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He carries a portable cattle prod to "gently" remind himself that fast food is bad, bad, bad!

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