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Tracking Fast Food Restaurant Growth on the USDA's New Food Atlas

Some cities have seen increases as high as 200 percent.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service has created an incredibly detailed atlas to explore how food environment factors — such as proximity to grocery stores and restaurants and food prices — interact to "influence food choices and diet quality." According the USDA's website, the atlas currently features over 211 indicators of the food environment across the county, state, and regional levels.

The atlas can be used to explores things like which counties and states have the best access to grocery stores, where obesity is prevalent, and impressively, the growth of fast food restaurants across the country. Between 2007 and 2012, a number of cities have seen at least a 50 percent increase in fast food restaurant outlets.

Union, a city in New Mexico, saw a 100 percent increase in fast food restaurants across the five years, but that is because the number jumped from one to two restaurants. Other cities that saw drastic changes include Custer, Idaho which saw a 200 percent increase (a jump from two restaurants to six), and La Salle, Texas which witnessed a 133 percent increase (from three restaurants to seven). While the percentages are quite high, the actual number of restaurants are quite low. San Diego, Calif. only saw a seven percent increase in fast food restaurants but the number jumped from 2,367 restaurants to 2,536. This is likely due to the fact that most of the cities are places with small populations. However, even places with larger populations like Los Angeles — a city which in parts has been under a moratorium on new fast food restaurants since 2008 — has managed to see a nearly 6.5 percent increase.

The number of fast food restaurants has also dramatically decreased in certain parts of the country, namely in the Midwest and the West. Multiple cities across South Dakota, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, and Idaho have seen a 50 percent or greater drop in fast food restaurants. The city of Sagachue, Colo. saw a 100 percent decrease in fast food restaurants between 2007 and 2012 dropping from two to zero. Perhaps that's a good thing, considering that a study revealed in December that fast food has remained "consistently unhealthy" for the better part of two decades.