The recent growth of ethnic restaurants throughout the country has contributed to a fast casual restaurant boom in the US. This paper studies the effects of proximity to a Mexican restaurant – the dominant type of ethnic fast casual restaurant – on maternal and child health.

Giuntella uses data on the complete residential addresses of all mothers who gave birth in the Miami metropolitan area between 1989 and 2009 and matches them to a time series of all establishments – restaurants and stores – selling food and drink. This unique dataset allows him to use mother fixed effects and to exploit over-time variation in the food environment to identify effects on maternal weight gain and child birth outcomes.

The results show that living in proximity to a Mexican restaurant is associated with a lower likelihood of excessive weight gain among US-born mothers. These effects are concentrated in low-income neighbourhoods and among members of disadvantaged groups (e.g., low-skilled, young, and African-American individuals). No protective effect was found for foreign-born mothers. Giuntella finds no evidence of significant effects on either other maternal outcomes or various child health metrics at birth.

Overall, these results provide some support for policy programmes promoting ethnic restaurants and ethnic food as a strategy to increase access to healthy options and healthy eating in low-income.