The availability of healthy food options in fast food outlets in six rural counties
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Obesity is an increasingly prevalent problem and many chronic diseases are associated with excess body fat. Understanding factors which contribute to excess body fat is a primary step in curtailing the obesity epidemic. An individual’s environment can play a role in food choice as food selection may be limited to those foods available in the environment. Rural environments may have less availability of healthy foods due to unique characteristics of these areas. Fast food establishments usually offer convenient meals but healthy choices at these restaurants may be limited. The number of healthy options may vary among types of fast food outlets. The study area for this project included six rural counties. Fast food outlets within the counties were identified from the Brazos Valley Food Environment Study. Store types included fast food, grocery, and convenience stores. Store menus were analyzed with a survey instrument for healthy options which would allow consumers to meet dietary guideline recommendations. A total of 222 fast food outlets were identified within the study area; 98 were primarily fast food stores, 112 were convenience stores with fast food, and 12 were grocery stores with fast food. Healthy options for breakfast meals were available in 22.4% of fast food stores, 8.9% of convenience stores, and 50% of grocery stores. Healthy options for lunch entrees were available at 67.3% of fast food stores, 35.7% of convenience stores, and 75% of grocery stores. For lunch/dinner options, national chain fast food stores were more likely than other fast food stores to offer healthy options (78.9% v. 42.4%, p<0.001). National chain fast food stores were also more likely than other fast food stores to offer healthy breakfast options (26% v. 13.9%, p=0.032). Analyzing healthy options from fast food stores only may exclude the outlets that are the predominant sources of fast food in these areas. Although the national chains offer some healthy options, the majority of fast food outlets in rural areas may be regional and local chains that offer few healthy options. These findings may indicate a limitation in the ability of rural populations to consume healthy foods.
Creel, Jennifer Sue (2006). The availability of healthy food options in fast food outlets in six rural counties. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from