Gestational diabetes risk may decrease with easy access to supermarkets, fitness centers and increase with easy access to fast-food restaurants

Vernal, USA - July 23, 2019: Utah city street in historic town with many fast food restaurant signs on road and cars

May 23, 2024—Living in an area with a high density of supermarkets and fitness centers may decrease pregnant women’s risk of developing gestational diabetes, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study was published in The Lancet Regional Health – Americas on May 20. Lead author was Matthew Shupler, postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology.

Most studies on the association between gestational diabetes and the “food environment”—the physical context in which people obtain and consume food—have focused on the density of single types of establishments, such as grocery stores or fast-food chains, rather than multiple types, according to the authors of the new study. Moreover, no prior U.S. studies have examined the association between the number of fitness centers located near pregnant women’s residences and gestational diabetes risk.

To learn more, the researchers counted the number of multiple types of food establishments—supermarkets, fast-food restaurants, full-service restaurants, and convenience stores—as well as the number of fitness centers within 500, 1,000, and 1,500 meters of the homes of 68,779 pregnant women in Eastern Massachusetts between 2000 and 2016. The prevalence of gestational diabetes among the study population during the study period was 4.5%.

After adjusting for the effects of socioeconomic status, the study found that pregnant women living in areas with the highest density of fast-food restaurants had higher odds of developing gestational diabetes compared with pregnant women living in areas with the lowest density. Living in an area with a higher density of supermarkets and fitness centers was associated with lower odds of developing gestational diabetes.

“Policymakers and city planners should consider zoning laws that lower the number of fast-food restaurants and replace [them] with supermarkets or other affordable healthier food options to potentially help mitigate the burden of gestational diabetes,” the authors wrote. “Expanding access to affordable indoor fitness centers may also help protect against the development of gestational diabetes.”

Read the study: Association between density of food retailers and fitness centers and gestational diabetes mellitus in Eastern Massachusetts, USA: population-based study

Photo: iStock/krblokhin