The risk of diabetes has increased in all parts of the United States since the late 1990s. However, the risk of developing diabetes varies by where a person lives. Rates of diabetes range from 1.5% (in counties mostly in the west) to as high as 33% in other counties (mostly in the southeast). Also, there are significant geographical disparities comparing neighboring counties of similar demographics. This suggests that local environmental factors impact diabetes risk.

Where we live affects our health

We know that better neighborhood resources, such as being able to be physically active outdoors, is linked to reduced diabetes risk. Now new research is looking at whether the presence of fast food restaurants and supermarkets impact the risk of developing diabetes. The Diabetes LEAD Study (The Diabetes Location, Environmental Attributes, and Disparities) included more than 4 million veterans. Most of the participants were non-Hispanic White (76%) and male (92%). Participants enrolled between 2008 and 2016 and followed up through 2018, with an average follow-up of more than 5 years.

Too many fast food restaurants increase risk of type 2 diabetes

Researchers found that the presence of fast food restaurants (compared with other types of restaurants) within neighborhoods was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. This was independent of whether people lived in rural or high-density urban settings. In contrast, the availability of supermarkets was linked to a lower type 2 diabetes risk in suburban and rural communities only.

We do not know if the findings would be similar for the Hispanic/Latino population. However, the results suggest that targeting availability of supermarkets may be more appropriate in suburban and rural communities than urban communities. Restrictions on fast food restaurants could possibly help in all community types.


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