London: Parents, note! Your neighbourhood may determine whether your kids are overweight, a new study has found.

Children living in areas surrounded by fast food outlets are more likely to be overweight or obese, according to researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in UK and their colleagues.

The research looked at weight data from more than a million children in UK and compared it with the availability of unhealthy food from outlets including fish and chip shops, burger bars, pizza places, and sweet shops.

They found that older children in particular are more likely to be overweight when living in close proximity to a high density of unhealthy eating outlets.

"We found that the more unhealthy food outlets there are in a neighbourhood, the greater the number of overweight and obese children," said Professor Andy Jones, from UEA's Norwich Medical School, who led the research.

"The results were more pronounced in secondary school children who have more spending power to choose their own food. But the association was reversed in areas with more healthy food options available," Jones said.

"If we can use these findings to influence planning decisions and help create a more healthy food environment, we may be able to help reverse this trend for future generations," study co-author Andreea Cetateanu, from UEA's school of Environmental Sciences, said.

"Public health policies to reduce obesity in children should incorporate strategies to prevent high concentrations of fast food and other unhealthy food outlets.

"But there is no quick fix - and any interventions for tackling childhood obesity and creating environments that are more supportive for both physical activity and better dietary choices must be part of the bigger picture looking at the whole obesity system," Cetateanu said.

The research team used data from the National Child Measurement Programme which records the height and weight of one million children at the majority of state schools in England annually.

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