More Fast Food Makes Fatter Neighborhoods

High rates of obesity and diabetes are being correlated to high concentrations of fast food restaurants in neighborhoods. Some look to zoning as a solution.

"Higher rates of diabetes and obesity occur in neighborhoods -- regardless of the residents' income, race or ethnicity -- where fast-food restaurants and convenience stores greatly outnumber grocery stores and produce vendors, according to a statewide study released today."

"'One of the points that this study makes is that we can't just look at issues of weight as a personal choice,' said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Los Angeles County's public health director, who was not associated with the study."

"'We are affected by our environment. We understand that when we're talking about air quality, but we forget it affects what we eat.'"

"At least two of the study's recommendations -- requiring fast-food restaurants to post calorie and fat content on menu boards and placing zoning restrictions on new outlets -- have already drawn opposition from the California Restaurant Assn."

Full Story: UCLA study links poor health to fast-food neighbors



Correlation == causation?

There is a clear and obvious correlation between fast food, high obesity rates, and low income. This does not mean they all cause each other, or that none of them do. Conventional wisdom of course is that fast food makes one fat. That cannot be any more true than to say that poverty makes one fat - because poverty correlates with obesity as well.

This reminds me of a report by the BBC that chronicled a town in Mississippi that held (holds?) the title of fattest in America. The reporter spoke with a severely obese women who described her diet: pastas, pies, cakes, breads, cookies... most of it apparently home-cooked. Cut to the reporter standing alongside the freeway in front of a fast food restaurant, blaming the local obesity rate on the panoply of such places in the area. But the woman didn't even mention fast food...

There is no proof that excess calories cause fat gain. There is a lot of evidence (not proof, but evidence) that excess carbohydrates do. Fast food restaurants, of course, serve lots and lots of both. But elevated obesity levels are blamed on calories alone. Meanwhile millions of people go on arduous low-calorie, low-fat diets, exercise their butts off, eat no fast food at all, and lose nothing but water weight. Or, they do lose weight on a 1200 kcal diet, and attribute it to the low calorie count, when actually they were also eating very few carbs as well! When Morgan Spurlock does Super Size Me, we blame his health problems on the Big Macs and not on the fries and huge Cokes he has to go with them. Why?

It's becoming increasingly apparent that the way the human body works is not as simple as calories in-calories out. On the contrary, there is increasing evidence that the body's metabolism adjusts itself to burn what is available, and to slow down when calories are lacking (hence the reason low-calorie, low-fat dieters are constantly tired and feel like shit). Carbohydrates are the only food components that cause insulin levels to spike and without insulin, the body is physically unable to store fat. There are a lot of calories in five Big Macs. There are also a lot of carbohydrates. But the calories get the blame for the fat gain while the carbs get the free pass. Why?

Fat is known to be very high in calories. Yet it does not provoke an insulin response and therefore cannot cause fat storage. High-fat diets are known to be among the best for fat LOSS! Ask anyone who's tried one. Of course the line from the American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, etc., is that high-fat diets are suicide, your arteries will caulk shut, etc. Whereas most people who go on these diets find that their blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels, and virtually all other bloodwork on these diets IMPROVES. How? For years, the American Heart Association said don't eat eggs, or at least don't eat the yolks because the cholesterol levels are off the charts and you'll die a horrible death. Now, whoops, we've discovered there are such things as "good" fats, which is of course what Atkins for example had been saying for 30 years.

Let's ask ourselves why there is high fructose corn syrup in our whole wheat bread, in our chicken soup, in our yogurt, etc. Watch any film from the 1940s and look at the men. Flat stomachs, nearly all of them. Even the ones with desk jobs. And they were already driving to work at this time, getting little more exercise than today, if any. It's not like they all worked out at the gym, because they didn't have gyms then! High meat, high fat diets. Lots of beef, pork, poultry, soups, veggies. Not as much sugar or starches. HFCS was not even invented yet; sugar was rare because it was more expensive.

Clearly the picture is more complicated than this UCLA study is painting.

Proof and causation.

There is no proof that excess calories cause fat gain. There is a lot of evidence (not proof, but evidence) that excess carbohydrates do.

Argumentation from fading-popularity diet texts aside,

Science doesn't provide proof. Science give the chance of a particular hypothesis being true (r-squared, T-tests, etc). It is quite clear to those in the public health sector that increasing caloric intake (by whatever means - HFCS, fat, carbs, sugar, Starbuck's lattes with half-caf lofat) and reducing caloric output causes weight gain. It's not hard, really, because many ordinary folk understand this too.

It is also becoming increasingly clear that certain areas of cities have fewer food options, which this article points out. Now is the causation related to self-sorting or education or SES? Likely the answer is: it depends.

Changing zoning to ameliorate the condition isn't dependent upon precisely r-squaring the causation. It's like saying don't put on a band-aid after cleaning the wound, because I don't know whether the cut was caused by a piece of glass or metal.



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