Food Deserts vs. Swamps: The USDA Weighs In
Why are so many Americans so fat? The conventional wisdom blames a confluence of factors: Unhealthful food is less expensive and more widely available than fresh fruits and vegetables. (Oh, and it sometimes tastes better, too.) The conventional solution: Make healthful food more easily available, especially in low-income areas, and watch the America's extra pounds melt away.
Not so fast, says a report released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A broad review of the literature reveals that there's no significant evidence that increased access to fruits, vegetables, low-fat milk and whole grains actually reduces body mass index (BMI). One study did show that proximity to fast-food restaurants increased BMI, while proximity to a grocery store reduced it. But the total effects only nudged BMI scores up or down less than half a point.
Indeed, record obesity rates might have more to do with the availability of junk food than the difficulty finding fresh, healthful options, the report says. In short: So-called food deserts aren't the issue. It's food swamps, thick with fast-food joints and convenient stores.
The analysis has significant policy implications. It cautions against simply plopping new grocery stores into low-income urban and rural areas, though that might be appropriate in certain places. Instead, it suggests a broad range of policies, from financial incentives to purchase healthful food to education programs. And it makes clear that solutions require a combination of initiatives. There is no silver bullet.
Among the solutions highlighted is the Health Bucks program in New York that offers food-stamp recipients $2 for every $5 they spend at a farmers market. Such programs appear to be gaining momentum. In 2008, 753 farmers markets accepted food stamps (now called SNAP benefits), up from 253 in 2000. I recently wrote a story about the
Wholesome Wave Foundation's efforts to launch similar programs in Washington, California and New England.
What do you think? Is access to healthful food a key part of solving the obesity crisis? No pun intended: Weigh in.
-- Jane Black
June 25, 2009; 3:46 PM ET
Categories: Food Politics | Tags: Jane Black, USDA, food policy, nutrition
Save & Share: Previous: Food Find: Ruth's Fine Almond Toffee
Next: I Spice: Parsley
Posted by: Jambutter | June 25, 2009 8:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: kumarc | June 25, 2009 11:18 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jane Black | June 26, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: LostArtsKitchen | June 26, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: rochelle3 | June 26, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jane Black | June 26, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: LostArtsKitchen | June 26, 2009 7:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: gone2beach | June 27, 2009 7:37 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: afulton | July 1, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.