Report: Improving Food Deserts Doesn’t Improve Health Outcomes

A new study published in the February issue of Health Affairs presents evidence that providing fresh food in food deserts does not improve diets or health outcomes for residents.
February 4, 2014, 6am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Adding supermarkets to neighborhoods with a dearth of access to fresh and healthy food does not lead to improvements in residents' diets or health outcomes, according to an article by Clara Ritger, who details the findings of a report by a team of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Penn State University's departments of sociology, anthropology, and demography.

According to Ritger’s description, the study compares two neighborhoods in Philadelphia, one which received a new supermarket, and one which did not: “When a grocery store was opened in one Philadelphia food desert, 26.7 percent of residents made it their main grocery store and 51.4 percent indicated using it for any food shopping, the report found. But among the population that used the new supermarket, the researchers saw no significant improvement in BMI, fruit and vegetable intake, or perceptions of food accessibility, although there was a significant improvement in perception of accessibility to fruits and vegetables.”

Ritger’s reporting connects the study’s findings to the $500 million federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative: “if the conclusion is borne out, it would suggest that policymakers rethink the Healthy Food Financing Initiative if they want to promote healthier eating and healthier citizens.”

The new report isn’t the first in 2014 to question whether current programs are doing enough to solve the growing problem of obesity in this country. But then again, another recent report ties fast food to growing Body Mass Index in wealthy countries. 

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Published on Monday, February 3, 2014 in National Journal
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