Rethinking Healthcare

"Food desert": a lazy explanation for obesity in poorer neighborhoods

Posting in Cities

Poor urban neighborhoods actually have more supermarkets than wealthier areas, and food access doesn't even correlate to child obesity. People in these neighborhoods are still unhealthy, but it's going to take more than new produce stands or urban gardens to fix this.

The concept of food deserts first came about in the UK in the early nineties. The narrative goes like this: poor urban neighborhoods suffer from poor health due to lack of access to fresh food. And concern over this has taken off stateside in recent years.

Cities across the country have instituted new produce carts, urban gardens, and farmers markets -- wonderful, progressive, and healthful programs.

The only problem? They're missing the point.

Two new studies detailed in the New York Times today find:

  1. Poor urban neighborhoods actually have more supermarkets per square mile than wealthier neighborhoods.
  2. There's no observed relationship between how well children eat and the food available near their homes.
  3. Food access doesn't correlate to child obesity.

Debunk, debunk, debunked.

Kelly D. Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, tells Gina Kolata of the Times:

"It is always easy to advocate for more grocery stores. But if you are looking for what you hope will change obesity, healthy food access is probably just wishful thinking."

We clearly need a more comprehensive approach to addressing nutrition in underprivileged neighborhoods.

I'm not one to argue with bringing more fresh food to impoverished neighborhoods. But until public health campaigns bring greater focus to our overall relationship with food and respect for our bodies, those new organic produce stands are going to primarily benefit people already converted to healthful eating.

[via The New York Times]

Photo: Paul Lowry/Flickr

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Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure