Some 7 years after an ordinance was passed in South Los Angeles, restricting new fast food restaurants, a new study by the RAND Corporation has revealed that rates of obesity have not declined.
As noted on the RAND website (www.rand.org):
“We evaluate(d) the impact of the “Los Angeles Fast-Food Ban,” a zoning regulation that has restricted opening/remodeling of standalone fast-food restaurants in South Los Angeles since 2008. Food retail permits issued after the ban are more often for small food/convenience stores and less often for larger restaurants not part of a chain in South Los Angeles compared to other areas; there are no significant differences in the share of new fast-food chain outlets, other chain restaurants, or large food markets. About 10% of food outlets are new since the regulation, but there is little evidence that the composition has changed differentially across areas. Data from the California Health Interview Survey show that fast-food consumption and overweight/obesity rates have increased from 2007 to 2011/2012 in all areas. The increase in the combined prevalence of overweight and obesity since the ban has been significantly larger in South Los Angeles than elsewhere. A positive development has been a drop in soft drink consumption since 2007, but that drop is of similar magnitude in all areas.”
Why didn’t the ban work?
As Roland Sturm, one of the co-authors of the study noted, there weren’t very many stand-alone franchises in the 32-square-mile area covered by the fast-food ban to begin with. He called the South L.A. fast-food restriction "symbolic" and "not at all effective."
Although new fast food restaurants were limited, convenience stores were not. Neither were supermarkets. Consequently, there was an increase in consumers purchasing so-called “junk food” at markets and discount retailers.
Sturm noted that large supermarkets “are especially good at purveying soda and candy at low prices." A recent study by Drexel University found that supermarkets built in underserved areas ranked among the least impactful policy changes affecting the nutritional quality of foods.
“…We shouldn't expect diets to shift dramatically until we start changing the relative price of food," Barry Popkin, a professor at the University of North Carolina, told NPR. Sturm's research on a South African program that offered subsidies for healthier food buttresses that notion. It's pretty intuitive. When given the rebate, participants didn't fully switch to healthier food, but they certainly bought more of it.
The RAND Corporation is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous. RAND is nonprofit, nonpartisan, and committed to the public interest.