Advocates for improved public health and nutrition have argued that obesity and other food-related public health problems are exacerbated by the existence of “food deserts,” stretches of cities and regions where there are few if any outlets selling fresh, unprocessed food.
The L.A. Times reports that a new study finds that the link between the obesity and the type of food establishments in a neighborhood is not as clear as some advocates claim:
There’s no strong evidence of an association between living within walking distance of places to buy food and being overweight or not, researchers said after interviewing nearly 100,000 Californians.
Given the attention to the idea of food deserts – areas with limited access to healthful food – and their effect on people’s health, the researchers wanted to find how much it mattered to have stores and restaurants within walking distance, which they defined as a mile from home. . . .
“Evidence is more tentative than often presented in the news media and in policy arguments” linking obesity with the food environment, the researchers said. That is, the idea that people who live close to lots of fast-food outlets and far from big, well-stocked supermarkets are more likely to be overweight or obese, or to show other health results of poor eating habits.
“The evidence is not clear on whether promoting or discouraging a particular type of food outlet is an effective approach to promoting healthful dietary behavior and weight status,” the researchers said.