Childhood obesity, is fast food exposure a factor?

Peter J. Dolton, Wiktoria Tafesse*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Access to fast food has often been blamed for the rise in obesity which in turn has motivated policies to curb the spread of fast food. However, robust evidence in this area is scarce, particularly using data outside of the US. It is difficult to estimate a causal effect of fast food given spatial sorting and ever-present exposure. We investigate whether the residential access to fast food increased BMI of adolescents at a time when fast food restaurants started to open in the UK. The time period presents the study with large spatial and temporal differences in exposure as well as plausibly exogenous variation. We merge data on the location and timing of the first openings of all fast food outlets in the UK from 1968−1986, with data on objectively measured BMI from the 1970 British Cohort Survey. The relationship between adolescent BMI and the distance from the respondents’ homes and time since opening, is studied using OLS and Instrumental Variables regression. We find that fast food exposure had no effect on BMI. Extensive robustness checks do not change our conclusion.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101153
Number of pages11
JournalEconomics and Human Biology
Early online date6 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was partly funded by the co-authors’ - Wiktoria Tafesse’s PhD scholarship from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation. Wiktoria Tafesse, nor the ESRC have no relevant or material financial interests that relate to the research described in this paper. The ESRC, nor any other entity or institution, had the right to - or did - review the paper prior to its circulation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors


  • Childhood and adolescent obesity
  • Diet

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