Florida Public Health Review

Publication Date

November 2010


Recent studies have linked the alarming obesity epidemic in the U.S. to the growth of the fast-food restaurant industry, which offers convenient service alongside inexpensive and high-calorie food. As the number of fast-food outlets increases, research demonstrates that their geographic location plays a significant role in creating obesogenic environments, potentially exposing socially disadvantaged groups to unhealthy nutrition choices provided by these outlets. Whereas previous studies have examined the distribution of positive health amenities such as supermarkets and health-food stores, there is a growing need to evaluate the socio-demographic characteristics of neighborhoods that contain negative health entities such as fast-food outlets. Accordingly, this study sought to determine whether access to fast-food restaurants varied by neighborhood racial/ethnic composition and socioeconomic status in Hillsborough County, Florida—an area that is relatively understudied in terms of its food environment and related health implications. Bivariate and multivariate statistical analyses indicated that race and ethnicity play a pervasive role in explaining the prevalence of fast-food outlets in the county. The results reveal a significantly higher density of fast-food outlets near neighborhoods characterized by a larger proportion of racial/ethnic minorities, even after controlling for the effects of socioeconomic factors and locational characteristics. The study underscores the need to consider both the healthy and unhealthy aspects of the food environment in formulating policy solutions for addressing the obesity epidemic.