Obesity and nutrition: Food deserts might be less relevant than burger swamps
A new study argues that access to grocers alone isn't enough to make people eat healthy. More relevant than grocer access or lack thereof -- the latter known as a "food desert" -- were proximity to quantities of what the industry likes to call "quick serve" restaurants. (My phrase of choice is "burger swamp.")
Income was also a big factor. From the Los Angeles Times:
Better access to supermarkets — long touted as a way to curb obesity in low-income neighborhoods — doesn't improve people's diets, according to new research. The study, which tracked thousands of people in several large cities for 15 years, found that people didn't eat more fruits and vegetables when they had supermarkets available in their neighborhoods.
Instead, income — and proximity to fast food restaurants — were the strongest factors in food choice.
The results, published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, throw some cold water on the idea that lack of access to fresh produce and other healthful foods is a major driver in the disproportionate rates of obesity among the poor, or that simply encouraging grocery chains to open in deprived areas will fix the problem, said study lead author Barry Popkin, director of the Nutrition Transition Program at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
For one thing, experts said, grocery stores are brimming with choices that are every bit as fattening as fast-food meals. For another, the prices of healthful grocery store foods are often higher than fast-food prices.
"This raises the serious issue of how we get people to eat healthy," Popkin said.
Interestingly enough, this doesn't appear particularly restricted by culture. The lack of influence shown by grocery stores was evident in both a Latino community and a Scottish one.
Of course, one other option that uses more of a "push" approach is food delivery. I would imagine that services like the revived Peapod.com and, in many areas, CSA delivery services might be more effective in changing habits, since those services are significantly less passive.
Have you tried grocery delivery or CSA? If so, was this true for you?
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