Relative and absolute availability of fast-food restaurants in relation to the development of diabetes: A population-based cohort study

Jane Y. Polsky, Rahim Moineddin, Richard H. Glazier, James R. Dunn, Gillian L. Booth


OBJECTIVES: To determine whether residents living in areas with a high proportion of fast-food restaurants (FFR) relative to all restaurants are more likely to develop diabetes and whether the risk varies according to the volume of FFR.

METHODS: The study cohort consisted of adult respondents (20–84 years) to the Canadian Community Health Survey (cycles 2005, 2007/2008, 2009/2010) who resided within walking distance (720 m) of at least one restaurant in Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga or Hamilton, ON. The development of diabetes was established by linking participants to the Ontario Diabetes Database. Cox proportional hazards models were used to estimate hazard ratios (HRs) of incident diabetes associated with relative and absolute measures of restaurant availability.

RESULTS: During a median follow-up of 5 years, 347 of 7,079 participants (4.6%) developed diabetes. Among younger adults (20–65 years, n = 5,806), a greater proportion of fast-food relative to all restaurants was significantly associated with incident diabetes after adjustment for a range of individual and area-level covariates, but only in areas with high volumes of fast-food retailers (3+ outlets) (HR = 1.79, 95% confidence interval: 1.03–3.12, across the interquartile range). Adjusting for body mass index rendered this association non-significant. No significant associations were observed in areas with low volumes of FFR or among older adults (65–84 years, n = 1,273). Absolute availability (number) of fast-food and other restaurants was generally unrelated to incident diabetes.

CONCLUSION: Areas with the double burden of a high volume of FFR and few dining alternatives may represent an adverse environment for the development of diabetes.


Diabetes mellitus; fast food; restaurants; body mass index; cohort studies

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