Document Type

Working Paper




Urban Neighborhoods, Food Environment, Child Health and Obesity, Public Housing




National Institutes of Health

Funding ID

R01HD070739, R01DK097347, and R01DK108682


This study was supported by the National Institutes of Health (R01HD070739, R01DK097347, and R01DK108682). The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The authors would like to thank the New York City Department of Education, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Zac McDermott, Joanna Rae Bailey, Meryle Weinstein, and Jeremy Sze for providing data and support. We also thank seminar participants at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, the American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association, and the Urban Economics Association. *This publication is forthcoming in Regional Science and Urban Economics.


Economic Policy | Economics | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration


We examine the causal link between proximity to fast food and the incidence of childhood obesity among low-income households in New York City. Using individual-level longitudinal data on students living in public housing linked to restaurant location data, we exploit the naturally occurring within-development variation in distance to fast food restaurants to estimate the impact of proximity on obesity. Since the assignment of households to specific buildings is based upon availability at the time of assignment to public housing, the distance between student residence and retail outlets—including fast food restaurants, wait-service restaurants, supermarkets, and corner stores—is plausibly random. Our credibly causal estimates suggest that childhood obesity increases with proximity to fast food, with larger effects for younger children who attend neighborhood schools.



Additional Information

Working paper no. 228. Revised from May 2020.


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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



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