Food Deserts May Be a Myth

New research found that impoverished neighborhoods actually have more access to grocery stores than other neighborhoods
Staff Writer

Typically, when it comes to discussions of low-income households vis-à-vis America's obesity problems, food deserts are the first to blame. The Daily Meal's most gluttonous cities list pointed out that the main problem with food deserts isn't how much food is available, but what types of food are available.

Turns out, however, that food deserts and their supposed effects on obesity may be a myth. The New York Times reports that two new studies refute these longstanding arguments.

Dr. Helen Lee, from the Public Policy Institute of California, found that low-income neighborhoods did have twice as many fast-food restaurants and convenience stores as wealthier neighborhoods, but they also had almost twice as many supermarkets or grocery stores.

Thus access to fresh food (or the presence of food deserts) isn't a problem in low-income neighborhoods, the study concludes, and "differential exposure to food outlets does not independently explain weight gain over time in this sample of elementary school-aged children," the study says in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

Furthermore, another study from Roland Sturm of the RAND Corporation finds that a food environment actually does not affect food consumption. Sturm and his researchers examined children and adolescents' diet in comparison to the density of fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, small food stores, grocery stores, and large supermarkets in the area.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, concludes that there is no correlation between the types of food easily available, the types of diets the children ate, and the childrens' weight.

Of course, further studies will be needed to reinforce these conclusions, but Lee suggests that health advocates reconsider whether or not food deserts should be a large factor in the discussion of childhood obesity in America.

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