Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity

The article that jumps out at me today is entitled “Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity.” It was written by Gina Kolata and can be found here.  Many of my friends work in public health and I will be very interested to hear their thoughts on this article. The article calls into question the hypothesis that a lack of access to healthy foods leads to obesity in low income neighborhoods.

The article sites two recent studies. The first study shows that, in the low income neighborhoods examined for the study, grocery stores were actually more prevalent than in wealthy neighborhoods, which contradicts the long-held belief of many policymakers and public health experts. The lead author for this study is quoted as saying, “‘you can get basically any type of food’ within a few miles of almost any urban neighborhood.”

The second study found that, in 13,000 teenagers who self-reported their weight, height and diet, there was no relationship between what people said they ate, what types of foods they were able to access and their weight.

Obesity in the United States has become an epidemic and is a leading cause of the astronomical increase in health care costs in this country. Michelle Obama has helped elevate this issue recently, but people still seem to see this through a personal freedom and liberty lens, rather than as a public health issue.

There are laws in place around the country to require food establishments to list the calorie counts on their menus; or to eliminate trans-fats; or to improve nutrition in school lunches – there is certainly a lot of advocacy going on in the public health arena. But this feels like an issue that will be complicated to address in the United States, perhaps due to the individualistic nature of our American culture. It reminds me of the debates around smoking – the arguments that people make that they have a personal right or freedom to do harm to their own body, balanced against the public health arguments about the impact smoking has on health care costs.

Questions that come to mind: Aside from the fact that “a few miles” from home can be quite a distance when a person has to take the bus and has children, I can’t help wondering why it is so hard to get people’s attention on this issue. Is it because healthy food is more expensive and so healthy food is seen as a luxury item? Is it that emotions are heavily involved when it comes to food? My family always gathers around a big meal to celebrate any event and I can’t imagine not partaking in the Baltimore crab cakes and mashed potatoes. And if I’m lucky, strawberry shortcake or a Vaccaro’s cannoli for dessert! How much do you think family, and culture and tradition plays a part in what we eat or whether we exercise? And do you think that policy efforts or advocacy efforts can make a difference to stem the tide of the problem? What do you think will help bring about change in this area?

Please share your thoughts or expertise here I would love to hear from you! And thanks for reading.

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Filed under Health, Policy

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