Studies Shoot Down Concept of Food Deserts and Their Link to Obesity

Gina Kolata reports on the findings of two new studies that question the very concept of food deserts in poor neighborhoods, and the connection between fresh food access and obesity.
April 18, 2012, 1pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email Comments

The idea that many poor urban neighborhoods lack access to fresh food (food desert), which contributes to childhood obesity rates in such areas, has become a common cause driving planning and policy makers across the country, including Michelle Obama's signature Let's Move campaign. As Kolata reports, two new studies have raised serious questions about the premise behind both ideas.

Helen Lee, of the Public Policy Institute of California, published a study in the March issue of Social Science and Medicine, questioning the common occurrence of food deserts in poor urban neighborhoods. "Poor neighborhoods, Dr. Lee found, had nearly twice as many fast food restaurants and convenience stores as wealthier ones, and they had more than three times as many corner stores per square mile. But they also had nearly twice as many supermarkets and large-scale grocers per square mile."

The other study mentioned in the article focused on the connection between fresh food access and childhood obesity rates. That study, authored by Roland Sturm of the RAND Corporation, and published in February in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, "found no relationship between what type of food students said they ate, what they weighed, and the type of food within a mile and a half of their homes," writes Kolata.

Although "Some experts say these new findings raise questions about the effectiveness of efforts to combat the obesity epidemic simply by improving access to healthy foods," the goal of increasing access to fresh foods is just one of a host of efforts intended to combat America's obesity epidemic. Mrs. Obama's initiative, for example, also stresses improving food in schools, increasing physical education time, and educating people on the importance of healthy diets, as Kolata notes.

Full Story:
Published on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 in The New York Times
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email