AbstractThe aim of this study was to examine the association between the local food environment and obesity proportions among 3- to 4-year-old children who were participants in the WIC program in Los Angeles County using spatial analyses techniques. Spatial analysis software, ArcGIS and Geoda, were used to compute the retail food environment index (RFEI) per ZIP code, to check for spatial autocorrelation and to control for permeability of the boundaries. Linear regression and ANOVA were used to examine the impact of the food environment on childhood obesity. Fast-food restaurants represented 30% and convenience stores represented 40% of the sum of food outlets in areas where WIC participants reside. Although there was no statistically significant association between RFEI and 3- to 4-year-old obesity proportions among WIC children, analysis of variance (ANOVA) tests demonstrated statistically significant positive associations between obesity and the number of convenience stores and the number of supermarkets. Our findings suggest that RFEI, as currently constructed, may not be the optimal way to capture the food environment. This study suggests that convenience stores and supermarkets are a likely source of excess calories for children in low-income households. Given the ubiquity of convenience stores in low-income neighborhoods, interventions to improve availability of healthy food in these stores should be part of the many approaches to addressing childhood obesity. This study adds to the literature by examining the validity of the RFEI and by demonstrating the need and illustrating the use of spatial analyses, using GeoDA, in the environment/obesity studies.
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