OBJECTIVE: To explore changes in urban food environments near schools, as potential contributors to the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity among children.
DESIGN: Addresses of food premises and schools in 1966, 1976, 1986, 1996 and 2006 were geo-coded. For each year, the number and proportion of outlets by category (supermarket/grocery; convenience; fast-food outlet) within 800 m of schools were calculated. The degree of spatial clustering of outlets was assessed using a bivariate K-function analysis. Food outlet categories, school level and school social deprivation quintiles were compared.
SETTING: Christchurch, New Zealand.
SUBJECTS: All schools and food outlets at 10-year snapshots from 1966 to 2006.
RESULTS: Between 1966 and 2006, the median number of supermarkets/grocery stores within 800 m of schools decreased from 5 to 1, convenience stores decreased from 2 to 1, and fast-food outlets increased from 1 to 4. The ratio of fast-food outlets to total outlets increased from 0·10 to 0·67. The clustering of fast-food outlets was greatest within 800 m of schools and around the most socially deprived schools. Over the 40-year study period, school food environments in Christchurch can be characterized by increased densities of fast-food outlets within walking distance of schools, especially around the most deprived schools.
CONCLUSIONS: Since the 1960s, there have been substantial changes to the food environments around schools which may increasingly facilitate away-from-home food consumption for children and provide easily accessible, cheap energy-dense foods, a recognized contributor to the rise in prevalence of overweight and obesity among young people.