Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity -- The New York Times
Source: The New York Times
Author: Gina Kolata
[Article Summarized by Meridian Institute] Two new studies are debunking the belief that poor urban neighborhoods are food deserts, bringing into question one of the key elements of Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity. The studies found that these neighborhoods offer more fast food restaurants and convenience stores than more affluent ones, not to mention more grocery stores, supermarkets, and full-service restaurants. Roland Sturm, with the RAND Corporation and a lead author of one of the studies, said that within a couple of miles of almost any urban neighborhood, “you can get basically any type of food. Maybe we should call it a food swamp rather than a desert.” The new findings leave some experts to wonder about the effectiveness of trying to combat obesity by simply improving access to healthy foods. Obesity rates have not budged over the last decade, despite campaigns urging Americans to exercise more and eat healthier foods. Kelly D. Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, who was not involved in the studies, said, “It is always easy to advocate for more grocery stores. But if you are looking for what you hope will change obesity, healthy food access is probably just wishful thinking.” Justin DeJong, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, responding to the studies, said fighting obesity requires a “comprehensive response,” noting that the federal effort includes not just improving access to healthy foods, but improving food in schools, increasing physical education time, and educating people about the importance of healthy diets. Other researchers and advocates say further investigation is needed as to whether grocery store in poor neighborhoods are selling produce that is too expensive or of poor quality. It is unclear how the idea that poor urban neighborhoods were food deserts took hold, but it had immediate appeal. Dr. Helen Lee, of the Public Policy Institute of California, who led one of the studies, said data supporting the idea tended to be limited by methodological difficulties.
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