Zoning regulations for fast food

Zoning regulations can be used to limit or ban fast food outlets in certain areas of a city, restrict the number of fast food outlets in a city overall, restrict the density of fast food outlets in a given area, or regulate the distance between fast food outlets and other sites such as schools or hospitals. Frequent consumption of food from fast food chain restaurants may contribute to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity (Jaworowska 2013*).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Improved food environment

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Improved dietary choices

Evidence of Effectiveness

Zoning regulations that limit fast food outlets are a suggested strategy to improve the food environment and encourage healthy eating (CDC-Healthy places zoningMair 2005). Available evidence suggests that proximity to schools is associated with increased fast food purchases and obesity rates among adolescents (Alviola 2014*, Davis 2009a, Currie 2010*, Babey 2011) and, in some cases, living in areas with many fast food outlets has been associated with higher body mass index (Fleischhaker 2010) and greater fast food consumption, especially among low income individuals and adolescent males (Boone-Heinonen 2011, Forsyth 2012*). However, in other studies, fast food outlet density has not been associated with overweight and obesity (Viola 2013*) and availability is not associated with consumption frequency or body mass index (Richardson 2011, Hickson 2011). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

Some cities have passed zoning regulations to change the food environment. For example, Detroit requires a minimum distance of 500 feet between fast food outlets and schools (Detroit-Zoning), and in 2008, Los Angeles passed a one year moratorium on opening or expanding fast food establishments in South Los Angeles (LA-Ordinance).

Other smaller municipalities in California have additional zoning regulations, including prohibiting fast food restaurants to preserve the character of a downtown district as in Calistoga, Truckee, and Cotati; limiting the number of chain restaurants to no more than 9 at one time as in Arcata; and passing ordinances prohibiting new fast food outlets as in Seaside and Carmel (HEAL-Zoning). 

Implementation Resources

ChangeLab-Healthy school food zone - ChangeLab Solutions. Healthy school food zone.

PAS-Zoning 2016 - Planning Advisory Service (PAS). Planning & zoning for health in the built environment. American Planning Association (APA); 2016.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

CDC-Healthy places zoning - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Zoning.

Mair 2005 - Mair JS, Pierce MW, Teret SP. The use of zoning to restrict fast food outlets: A potential strategy to combat obesity. Baltimore: Center for Law and the Public’s Health, Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University; 2005.

Alviola 2014* - Alviola PA, Nayga RM, Thomsen MR, Danforth D, Smartt J. The effect of fast-food restaurants on childhood obesity: A school level analysis. Economics & Human Biology. 2014;12:110-9.

Davis 2009a - Davis B, Carpenter C. Proximity of fast-food restaurants to schools and adolescent obesity. American Journal of Public Health. 2009;99(3):505–10.

Currie 2010* - Currie J, Vigna SD, Moretti E, Pathania V. The effect of fast food restaurants on obesity and weight gain. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy. 2010;2(3):32–63.

Babey 2011 - Babey SH, Wolstein J, Diamant AL. Food environments near home and school related to consumption of soda and fast food. Los Angeles: UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); 2011.

Fleischhaker 2010 - Fleischhacker SE, Evenson KR, Rodriguez DA, Ammerman A. A systematic review of fast food access studies. Obesity Reviews. 2011;12(5):e460–71.

Boone-Heinonen 2011 - Boone-Heinonen J, Gordon-Larsen P, Kiefe CI, et al. Fast food restaurants and food stores: Longitudinal associations with diet in young to middle-aged adults: The CARDIA study. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2011;171(13):1162–70.

Forsyth 2012* - Forsyth A, Wall M, Larson N, Story M, Neumark-Sztainer D. Do adolescents who live or go to school near fast-food restaurants eat more frequently from fast-food restaurants? Health & Place. 2012;18(6):1261–9.

Viola 2013* - Viola D, Arno PS, Maroko AR, et al. Overweight and obesity: Can we reconcile evidence about supermarkets and fast food retailers for public health policy? Journal of Public Health Policy. 2013;34(3):424–38.

Richardson 2011 - Richardson AS, Boone-Heinonen J, Popkin BM, Gordon-Larsen P. Neighborhood fast food restaurants and fast food consumption: A national study. BMC Public Health. 2011;11(1):543.

Hickson 2011 - Hickson DA, Diez Roux AV, Smith AE, et al. Associations of fast food restaurant availability with dietary intake and weight among African Americans in the Jackson Heart Study, 2000-2004. American Journal of Public Health. 2011;101(Suppl 1):S301–9.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Detroit-Zoning - City of Detroit, Michigan. Ordinance No. 9-98 §1, 4-1-98.

LA-Ordinance - Los Angeles Department of City Planning. Ordinance 180103: Proposed fast food interim control ordinance (ICO) boundary. Los Angeles: Los Angeles Department of City Planning; 2007.

HEAL-Zoning - Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Cities Campaign. Healthy zoning regulations.

Date Last Updated