Fast food ban in South LA doesn t curb obesity

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People line up to buy food at a fast food restaurant in Harlem in New YorkFast food often gets a bad reputation, but the solution to the obesity epidemic does not involve limiting fast food restaurants. According to new survey data looking at the impact of a fast food ban enacted seven years ago in South Los Angeles, restricting the opening or remodeling of stand alone fast food restaurants was not associated with improvements in health or weight of the residents in the regulated area.

Researchers led by Dr. Roland Sturm of the RAND Corporation and Aiko Hattori, a public health economist from the University of North Carolina, used permit data to monitor the opening of fast food restaurants in this area and data from the California Health Interview Survey from the years 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012 to obtain diet and obesity measures. Height and weight were self-reported. After analyzing data from an intervention group (those in the area of the fast food ban) and a control group, researchers found that the only difference in new eating establishments opening was that in the intervention area those new establishments were more likely to be small food or convenience stores while in the control area, those new establishments were more likely to be larger independent restaurants. And new fast food chain restaurants opened at the same rate in both areas.

In terms of health measures, the obesity rate actually increased over the study period in the intervention group, and was greater than in the control group. In fact, average BMI continued to be significantly higher in the intervention area compared to other parts of the city. Although this was the case prior to the ban, the gap widened over the study period.

Although the study was limited by its small sample size and reliance on survey data, researchers say, Despite a vigorous debate of policy interventions to change food environments, very few identifiable policies have been implemented. We do not believe that changes in the food environment due to the regulation could have had a meaningful impact on dietary choices in South LA. This point is further supported by the fact that those frequenting these free-standing fast food restaurants are often just passing through, drivers on the way to a different location, and therefore are not part of the neighborhood.

ACSH s Ariel Savransky adds, The results of this study are not surprising, given that the food environment did not change over the study period. Furthermore, there is a place for fast-food in a balanced diet, and instead of regulation focusing on banning certain foods or restaurants, future efforts should focus on educating people about consuming a balanced diet, paying attention to portion sizes especially when consuming foods outside of the home and the importance of physical activity.