Food Outlet Visits, Physical Activity and Body Weight

A study of data from the SMARTRAQ survey, conducted in Atlanta from 2001–2002, found that dietary and physical activity patterns made independent but modest contributions to variance in Body Mass Index (BMI). Results varied widely by gender and race. 

This report investigates patterns of association between use of away-from-home food sources (i.e., fast food, restaurants, grocery stores), physical activity levels and BMI. The SMARTRAQ survey used a two-day travel diary to record food outlet visits. The survey sample included a substantial minority population. Researchers used a software program to map the built environment through which survey participants traveled. Modeling the physical environment created a standardized measure of neighborhood “walkability” that normalized the sample for statistical analysis.

Key Findings:

  • White men were more than twice as likely as black men to meet guidelines for moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA).
  • Diet-related variables explained more of the variance in BMI for women than for men.

Use of away-from-home food sources and physical activity are behaviors that affect weight status. Unlike demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, which are fixed or difficult to change, these behavioral variables are modifiable. Research into these behaviors might lead to more effective obesity interventions.