Nutrition experts in Southampton have found access to a wider variety of food outlets near homes and schools is linked to healthier diets in children.
Researchers at the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre studied the diets of more than 1,000 six-year-old children in the city to see the impact of the local environment and access to food outlets
They marked an area around each child's home and school to create an 'activity zone' where they spend the majority of their time every day and recorded the number and type of food outlets within each zone.
Parents were asked to report what their child ate for three months and results, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, showed access to a greater number and range of food outlets, as well as access to healthier shops such as greengrocers, was linked to a better diet.
The research was led by Dr Christina Vogel, a senior research fellow in public health nutrition, and research project manager Millie Barrett, in conjunction with Professor Keith Godfrey, lead for nutrition at the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, and the Southampton Women's Survey study team.
Overall, the group found children in Southampton were exposed to more unhealthy food outlets, such as takeaways and fast-food restaurants, than healthy food stores - and have called on the authorities to take action.
In the UK, more than 20% of children aged four to five years are overweight or obese and, by the time children reach the age of 10 to 11, this increases to more than a third.
"These findings show better diet scores were associated with exposure to a greater number of healthy outlets," said Dr Vogel, who is based at the University of Southampton's MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit.
"The results strengthen the argument for local authorities to increase the number of healthy food outlets to which young children are exposed, which is of particular note for Southampton where children are exposed to more unhealthy food outlets."