‘Food deserts’: Just how much does personal choice have to do with it?

18 Nov

Here’s today’s COMMENT FROM AN OLD FART: The Seattle Times published an opinion piece, Op-ed: Bringing relief to food deserts in King County by Anne Vernez Moudon and Adam Drewnowski:

City and county leaders should take more aggressive action to bring relief to food deserts with aggressive development policies and incentives, according to guest columnists Anne Vernez Moudon and Adam Drewnowski.   http://seattletimes.com/html/opinion/2019699347_moudondrewnowskiopedxml.html

Here is the definition of a “food desert”:

Definition for food desert:Web definitions: A food desert is a district with little or no access to foods needed to maintain a healthy diet but often served by plenty of fast food… en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_desert

That got moi thinking whether the issue isn’t as much personal choice as “food dessert.”

First, there is the New York Times article, Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity by Gina Kolata:  

It has become an article of faith among some policy makers and advocates, including Michelle Obama, that poor urban neighborhoods are food deserts, bereft of fresh fruits and vegetables.

But two new studies have found something unexpected. Such neighborhoods not only have more fast food restaurants and convenience stores than more affluent ones, but more grocery stores, supermarkets and full-service restaurants, too. And there is no relationship between the type of food being sold in a neighborhood and obesity among its children and adolescents.

Within a couple of miles of almost any urban neighborhood, “you can get basically any type of food,” said Roland Sturm of the RAND Corporation, lead author of one of the studies. “Maybe we should call it a food swamp rather than a desert,” he said.

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. Despite campaigns to get Americans to exercise more and eat healthier foods, obesity rates have not budged over the past decade, according to recently released federal data.

It is always easy to advocate for more grocery stores,” said Kelly D. Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, who was not involved in the studies. “But if you are looking for what you hope will change obesity, healthy food access is probably just wishful thinking.”

Advocates have long called for more supermarkets in poor neighborhoods and questioned the quality of the food that is available. And Mrs. Obama has made elimination of food deserts an element of her broader campaign against childhood obesity, Let’s Move, winning praise from Democrats and even some Republicans, and denunciations from conservative commentators and bloggers who have cited it as yet another example of the nanny state….

Some researchers and advocates say that further investigation is still needed on whether grocery stores and chain supermarkets in poor neighborhoods are selling produce that is too costly and of poor quality. “Not all grocery stores are equal,” said John Weidman, deputy executive director of the Food Trust, an advocacy group in Philadelphia. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/18/health/research/pairing-of-food-deserts-and-obesity-challenged-in-studies.html?_r=0


American Journal of Preventive Medicine
Volume 42, Issue 2 , Pages 129-135, February 2012

School and Residential Neighborhood Food Environment and Diet Among California Youth

  • Address correspondence to: Ruopeng An, MPP, MPhil, Pardee RAND Graduate School, 1776 Main Street, P.O. BOX 2138, Santa Monica CA 90407-2138,
  • Roland Sturm, PhD

RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, California


Various hypotheses link neighborhood food environments and diet. Greater exposure to fast-food restaurants and convenience stores is thought to encourage overconsumption; supermarkets and large grocery stores are claimed to encourage healthier diets. For youth, empirical evidence for any particular hypothesis remains limited.


This study examines the relationship between school and residential neighborhood food environment and diet among youth in California.


Data from 8226 children (aged 5–11 years) and 5236 adolescents (aged 12–17 years) from the 2005 and 2007 California Health Interview Survey were analyzed in 2011. The dependent variables are daily servings of fruits, vegetables, juice, milk, soda, high-sugar foods, and fast food, which were regressed on measures of food environments. Food environments were measured by counts and density of businesses, distinguishing fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, small food stores, grocery stores, and large supermarkets within a specific distance (varying from 0.1 to 1.5 miles) from a respondent’s home or school.


No robust relationship between food environment and consumption is found. A few significant results are sensitive to small modeling changes and more likely to reflect chance than true relationships.


This correlational study has measurement and design limitations. Longitudinal studies that can assess links between environmental, dependent, and intervening food purchase and consumption variables are needed. Reporting a full range of studies, methods, and results is important as a premature focus on correlations may lead policy astray.

Next, there is the article, Food deserts may not be culprit in obesity epidemic by Heather Gilligan of AP and California Health Report:

But a recent study of food and diet in low-income city neighborhoods, published in the journal of Social Science and Medicine, yielded several very unexpected results.

As expected, these neighborhoods had higher concentrations of fast food stores and convenience stores says Helen Lee, the study’s author, a sociologist and policy fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.

What they also seem to have greater or equal access to were large scale grocery stores,” Lee said. “Now, that was surprising.”

The study used a unique combination of data – census tracts, information on all food stores, and a longitudinal survey of kid’s health – in a sophisticated analysis of the relationship between food availability and obesity.

Overall, the picture that emerged of low-income urban areas was more consistent with a food swamp — filled with convenience stores, fast food joints and grocery stores — than a food desert, Lee said.

Lee also looked for a connection between the wealth of food on offer in these neighborhoods and increased body mass among children.

She didn’t find one.

Fast food nearby didn’t increase kids’ BMIs, and grocery stores nearby didn’t translate into lower BMIs.

There was no impact,” Lee said. “What you have access to in your neighborhood doesn’t seem to matter.”

Lee’s study is one of the few national looks at the relationship between food access and obesity, but her findings echo several earlier large studies. These include a report released by the USDA in 2009, which also found that low-income city neighborhoods were slightly more likely than their better-off neighborhoods to have a grocery store. In 2010, Mario Small, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, did an analysis of 331 American cities with similar results – no shortage of grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods….

What does affect a child’s weight, according to Lee’s study, is the amount of time spent watching television. “If that increased over time,” Lee says, “that was a huge predictor of obesity risk.”

The other important influence on BMIs was how much activity kids get outside of school. Children who play a sport or did other vigorous exercise that raised their heart rate for 20 minutes or more a day are less likely to become obese.

The basic problem is easily understood, Lee says. Americans are eating more calories than they burn. The solution may also seem as simple as righting that imbalance: eat less or move more. But Lee cautions that it’s not that easy….

 “It took 40 or 50 years for obesity to emerge as problem of big proportions,” Lee says. “There is no silver bullet here.” Article taken from HealthyCal – http://www.healthycal.org
URL to article: http://www.healthycal.org/archives/7848

In other words, much of the obesity problem is due to personal life style choices and the question is whether government can or should regulate those choices.

Personal Responsibility:

There is only one person responsible for your life and the vocation you have chosen. That person is the one you see in the mirror in the morning when you wake up. Don’t blame God, your boss, your parents, your former teachers, your coach, your co-workers or your dog. You and only you are responsible for your work life and what you have achieved. The sooner you accept this notion, the sooner you will begin to make changes that lead to a happier and more productive life and career.    http://www.corethemes.com/coreconcepts/

It’s all about ME unless I have to take responsibility for ME. The same brilliant minds who think the government can substitute for family have fostered a single parenthood rate of 70% in the African-American community and about 50% for the population as a whole. Given the child abuse and foster care numbers, this plan hasn’t worked well. Sometimes folks have to be responsible for their choices.

Blogs by Dr. Wilda:

COMMENTS FROM AN OLD FART © https://drwildaoldfart.wordpress.com/

Dr. Wilda Reviews ©                           http://drwildareviews.wordpress.com/

Dr. Wilda ©                                                                               http://drwilda.com/


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