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How NYC is combatting childhood obesity

An estimated 14 million American children are obese.

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Childhood obesity affects 19 percent of children in the US. (Wikimedia Commons)

By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

Improved grocery stores offering more fresh food in deprived urban areas trims child obesity, according to a new study in New York City.

The modernized markets in NYC have more space for fresh produce and perishable foods.

Grants have been available to cut the cost of renovating or opening new supermarkets in the Big Apple since 2009.

They were linked to a four to 10 percent cut in the average schoolchild’s BMIz score, a measure of body mass index (BMI) that takes height and gender into account.

They also led to a one percentage point cent fall in childhood obesity rates among schoolchildren living nearby.

While the differences are fairly modest, researchers say they could make a meaningful difference to the 14 million American children who are obese.

Childhood obesity affects 19 percent of children in the US and rates are highest among black and Hispanic people.

To slash death rates, childhood obesity rates would have to tumble at least three times faster than they did in the study.

The researchers, led by a team from New York University, found that a year after opening new and improved supermarkets, obesity rates fell from 24.3 percent to 23.3 percent among more than 22,000 children within half a mile of eight new stores.

No change was found among students who lived further away.

Younger children’s obesity risk scores fell more than those of older children.

The researchers say this may be because they can travel further from home and buy junk food when their parents are not looking.

For the study, the team identified at least one supermarket in each of the city’s boroughs that from 2009 to 2016 participated in New York City’s Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) program.

"Access to affordable, quality food is critical to building strong neighborhoods." (FRESH)

As part of FRESH, the city offered grants and tax breaks to renovate or build new nearly two dozen supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods with high unemployment to improve local access to healthy foods.

Researchers then looked at seven years of public school health records for children who lived within a mile or more of the FRESH supermarkets.

Body weight measurements were then compared for one year before and for up to a year after the supermarket was redone or newly built.

The study is the first to look at more than one FRESH store and to investigate their effects on childhood rather than adult obesity.

Lead study investigator Dr. Pasquale Rummo said: “Our study highlights that one in four New York City public school kids sampled, predominantly Hispanic and Black, is obese, a worrisome sign of the depth of the problem facing children’s health in the city.”

Senior study investigator Dr. Brian Elbel said: “These results, however small, demonstrate that supermarket subsidies might play an effective role in addressing the complex problem of childhood obesity in America, especially among our most at-risk Hispanic and black children.”

The findings were published in the journal JAMA Paediatrics.

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