More Support for Fast-Food-Free School Zones

In a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers at U.C.-Berkeley and Columbia report that the obesity rate among ninth-graders whose schools are very close to fast food restaurants (within one-tenth of a mile) is about 5 percent higher than the obesity rate among ninth-graders whose schools are a bit further away (within a quarter mile). Columbia economist Janet Currie and her colleagues argue that the difference, amounting to 1.7 percentage points, is probably due to the easy availability of cheap, calorie-dense food (although they concede that it could be caused by unmeasured variables related to both greater demand for fast food and higher obesity rates). At the same time, they find that the proximity of fast food restaurants does not seem to play a significant role in weight gain among pregnant women, possibly because they can get around more easily than carless high school students. "Our results suggest that a ban on fast foods in the immediate proximity of schools could have a sizeable effect on obesity rates among affected students," Currie et al. write. "However, a similar attempt to reduce access to fast food in residential neighborhoods would be unlikely to have much effect on adult consumers."

One reason I'm leery of proposals to ban soda and "junk food" from schools (as California, the source of the student data for this study, has done) is that I suspect such policies, once they prove ineffective, will be followed by restrictions that impinge on the rights of adults. Currie et al. are not the first researchers to suggest fast-food-free zones around schools. I'm not sure how big an impact the 500-foot rule suggested by their study would have on the choices available to adults, but judging from the experience with gun-free, drug-free, and sex-offender-free zones, anything like a 1,000-foot rule would be prohibitive for fast food restaurants in many cities. 

Here is the Berkeley press release about the study. Here is the Los Angeles Times story.

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  • ||

    I'm not sure how to reconcile this:

    Our results suggest that a ban on fast foods in the immediate proximity of schools could have a sizeable effect on obesity rates among affected students

    With this:

    the difference, amounting to 1.7 percentage points,

    Since when is 1.7 percentage points a sizable difference?

  • ||

    While I sympathize with the general anti-paternalistic sentiment, it's hardly helpful for libertarians to be constantly saying, "No, that's unfree!" without proposing their own solutions. In this case, the proper libertarian response isn't, "No, we all have a god-given right to fast food!" but rather, "The damage that fast food costs could be mitigated by reducing the supports they receive from the state, such as health and licensing requirements that favor large corporations and farm subsidies that subsidize unhealthy food, and fast food in particular."

    Ditto with guns - rather than constantly harping on how we all need guns or else we're going to be unfree, it would be helpful if anti-gun control law people would point out that America's gun problem is actually a drug problem, and its drug problem is actually drug prohibition problem.

    The truth is, America does have too many fast food restaurants. If you're not going to support paternalistic anti-fast food regulations, you've got to give some indication that libertarians at least see the problem and have their own solution that will achieve a similar end.

  • short, fat bastard||

    Fuck Janet Currie in the ass.

    I was fat then, I am fat now, and it is absolutely none of Currie's business.

  • ¢||

    Shut the fuck up, foodwhacko.

  • ¢||

    Not you, fat guy.

  • Warty||

    http://xkcd.com/552/

  • short, fat bastard||

    The truth is, America does have too many fast food restaurants. If you're not going to support paternalistic anti-fast food regulations, you've got to give some indication that libertarians at least see the problem and have their own solution that will achieve a similar end.

    It only has as many fast food joints as the market will bear. No more and no less.

    The free market is the solution Stephen. The invisible hand. Period.

  • ||

    I may be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure that at the Berkeley statistics department they're still teaching that correlation does not imply causation.

    Considering all of the potential third variables that could easily cause both higher obesity rates and the proximity of fast food restaurants for schools, I find this "study" offensive on its face.

  • Mark Twain||

    There are three kinds of liars in this world . . . liars, damn liars, and statisticians.

  • Mister Tax Slave||

    "Ditto with guns - rather than constantly harping on how we all need guns or else we're going to be unfree, it would be helpful if anti-gun control law people would point out that America's gun problem is actually a drug problem, and its drug problem is actually drug prohibition problem."

    New here? I mean like, since last Friday. Or today?

  • whiskeyGrimpeur||

    I can't believe this came from an economics department and was accepted by an academic journal.
    It is studies like this that make me embarrassed to hold an economics degree.

    I don't even know where to begin.

  • JP||

    First they zoned out the strip clubs, and I did nothing . . . .

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "it's hardly helpful for libertarians to be constantly saying, "No, that's unfree!" without proposing their own solutions. In this case, the proper libertarian response isn't, "No, we all have a god-given right to fast food!"

    Really?

    Why not?

    Prove to me that there is any outcome on thie earth that is of any higher value than maximum individual freedom.

  • oat willie||

    As soon as all fast food is banned from all primary and secondary campuses nationwide, I predict an "epidemic" of "fast food binge eating abuse" will sweep our nation's fat assed children.

    Bring back all those "victim producing" games we played as children such as; freeze tag and dodge ball and, oh heaven forbid, smear the queer so our kids can be healthy and have fun again.

  • ||

    While I sympathize with the general anti-paternalistic sentiment, it's hardly helpful for libertarians to be constantly saying, "No, that's unfree!" without proposing their own solutions.

    Ah, but once you get into the "proposing solutions," you've pretty much conceded that there is a problem that needs a collective solution.

    Sorry, not going to fall for it.

  • ||

    I recommend that the zone available for fast food restaurants be greater than 100 feet, so that kids will need to walk 200 feet when they go have lunch, but less than 247 feet, so that they all don't jump in cars and drive there.

  • ||

    Our results suggest that a ban on fast foods in the immediate proximity of schools could have a sizeable effect on obesity rates among affected students

    The Constitutional degradation brought about by paternalistic nitwits suggesting that property rights be ignored would be considerably more sizable. Meanwhile the unintended consequence of kids getting injured while straying further from campus in search of the food they want to eat is guaranteed.

  • Elemenope||

    Gilbert,

    So maximal individual freedom is an imperative? What magical logic did you use to derive that? Oh, no wait, you *didn't* derive that, you just assume it. The problem with your demand is that you couldn't satisfy it if someone else asked you to defend your principle.

    Please, Gil, prove to me that maximum individual freedom is of any higher value than any of its competitors on this Earth.

  • ||

    Stephen,
    While I sympathize with the general anti-paternalistic sentiment, it's hardly helpful for libertarians to be constantly saying, "No, that's unfree!" without proposing their own solutions.

    The argument is specious. There is no reason to provide a "solution" to a problem that does not exist, or is not even significant.

    The issue here, Stephen, is that even if the 5% difference in obesity levels between schools that have fast food joints nearby and those that don't could be attributed directly to the fast food joints, it would still NOT follow that the solution is to impose a restriction on the fast food joints. However, the 5% difference is statistically NOT significant enough to merit such worry.

    So, there being no real problem, it is not justified to ask libertarians for a "solution". It is up to those that assert that the fast food is the direct culprit to present evidence that merits the restrictions in the freedom of individuals.

  • ||

    "although they concede that it could be caused by unmeasured variables related to both greater demand for fast food and higher obesity rates"

    This is another thing I'm starting to see more of. They know that there's a hole the size of the Grand Canyon in their reasoning and if they don't mention it the study is easily knocked down. So instead they cop to it and then go right ahead and pretend like it's no big deal. The subtle effect is that some folks will read that the objection has been "accounted for" when in reality it has simply been ignored.

  • Mister Tax Slave||

    You all are missing the obvious. The solution is simple to close all public schools located within 200 feet of a fast food joint.

    Oh, and no grandfather clausing.

  • oat willie||

    Maybe now the liquor stores can move into those areas denied to the fast food restaurants and our children can learn to drink responsibly.

  • ||

    Five hundred feet, you say?
    What if the fast food joint was there first? Can we assume the school will be relocated to a "safer" location? We cannot afford to scrimp on the safety of the children, you know.

  • ||

    Elemenope,
    So maximal individual freedom is an imperative? What magical logic did you use to derive that?

    No magical logic, just logic. Maximum freedom does not mean a free for all, since the freedom of one is limited by the freedom of others - you cannot use your freedom to limit other people's freedom and so on.

    The reason that maximum freedom is to be attained is because, a) people are born free, and b) it is unethical or immoral to impose undue restrictions on a person's freedom.

  • SpongePaul||

    Its the kids and parents choice to eat or not. jeez..... Look when i was in high school (early 90's) or catholic scholl did not and to this day does not have a cafiteria per say. Mcdonalds, Pizza hut, Sunway, Popeyes and 1 or 2 others every day set up booths in the cafateria, and you ordered and ate whatever the heck you wanted, or you brought it from home. Oh and i would venture to say that most of us were healthier than the gen pop.

  • Mister Tax Slave||

    "Can we assume the school will be relocated to a "safer" location?"

    Not relocation. Close the schools perminently. The kids can get jobs at McDonald's and Arby's.

    It's a win/win.

  • ||

    Stephen,
    Ditto with guns - rather than constantly harping on how we all need guns or else we're going to be [not] free, it would be helpful if anti-gun control law people would point out that America's gun problem is actually a drug problem, and its drug problem is actually drug prohibition problem.

  • Scalia||

    Look when i was in high school (early 90's) or catholic scholl did not and to this day does not have a cafiteria per say.

    That must have been one heck of a high school.

  • ||

    Stephen,
    Ditto with guns - rather than constantly harping on how we all need guns or else we're going to be [not] free, it would be helpful if anti-gun control law people would point out that America's gun problem is actually a drug problem, and its drug problem is actually drug prohibition problem.

    The argument for gun ownership cannot be made using unrelated problems, because it leads to fallacious conclusions, for instance: You cannot prohibit guns because the real issue is drug traffickers killing each other. The counterargument can be made that the war on drugs is illegitimate, but the anti-gun stance is legitimate.

    The argument in favor of gun ownership is not only that guns protect us against tyrannical government, but that to protect one's life is a right.

    The truth is, America does have too many fast food restaurants.

    From this, one can construe that you know the exact threshold of fast food restaurants that can be in the USA.

    So, how many?

  • Craig Howard||

    "The truth is, America does have too many fast food restaurants."

    Oh, really. How many, pray tell, should we have? I want a number.

  • ||

    One reason I'm leery of proposals to ban soda and "junk food" from schools (as California, the source of the student data for this study, has done) is that I suspect such policies, once they prove ineffective, will be followed by restrictions that impinge on the rights of adults.

    Jacob, your concern for the rights of young people is truly touching.

    It only has as many fast food joints as the market will bear. No more and no less.

    The free market is the solution Stephen. The invisible hand. Period.


    As I read Stephen's point, it was that the status quo doesn't represent the free market, but a market in which government regulation artificially creates demand for fast food versus other choices. You may not agree with his argument, short fat, bastard, but if you're going to claim that he's wrong it would be useful to engage him.

  • Mad Max||

    'Not relocation. Close the schools perminently. The kids can get jobs at McDonald's and Arby's.

    'It's a win/win.'

    Excellent idea - when the kids see fast food being prepared, they're not going to ever want to eat fast food again.

  • ||

    What this country needs is a FastFood Czar!

  • Ska||

    Maybe the nostalgiac idea of the ice cream shop and the soda jerk frequented by high schoolers in the '50s is pure propaganda, but something tells me that teenagers hanging out at McDonalds is the same shit just not as mom and pop/Back to the Future.

  • Tom||

    If there was a library and a McDonald's next to a school, would their proximity draw juvenile clientele proportionally? I think not.

    A McDonald's next to your school isn't a positive sign for socioeconomic status. What I'm getting at is, that poorer kids are looking for cheap, salty food and will go where they can find it. If one really needed a library, he'd travel to find one.
    Kids without better options are going to seek McDonald's because they want it and its economical. Proximity is a shaky argument.

  • Taktix®||

    The truth is, America does have too many fast food restaurants. If you're not going to support paternalistic anti-fast food regulations, you've got to give some indication that libertarians at least see the problem and have their own solution that will achieve a similar end.

    I don't see a problem. No one is forced to eat at fast food places, and all fast food places offer healthy alternatives nowadays.

    It only becomes a problem when we're forced to pay for other's healthcare, because then public health is a public problem.

    I really don't give a shit if everyone's kids turn into fat lard-buckets. The more the better, actually, because that's less competition for my future, in-shape children.

    Your fat fucking kid is not my problem, but my access to food is a fat fucking problem when I can't get what I want because of your fat fucking kid...

  • ||

    Parse,
    As I read Stephen's point, it was that the status quo doesn't represent the free market, but a market in which government regulation artificially creates demand for fast food versus other choices.

    That's not the argument being discussed - the argument is if it justified to impose a restriction on the type of restaurant that is opened near a school just because there is a study that shows a relationship between easy access to fast food near a school and having overweight students. Stephen thinks that the way to argue is to show alternatives to this policy, when the very argument is fallacious.

  • J. S.||

    Your fat fucking kid is not my problem, but my access to food is a fat fucking problem when I can't get what I want because of your fat fucking kid...

    I have a proposal for you...

  • Taktix®||

    Humanity is so fucked up. We as a people have only escaped the day-to-day threat of starvation about 80 years ago, and now we're bitching about having too much to eat.

    I feel like I'm taking crazy pills...

  • ||

    Taktix: Not only that, but it's only been a few generations since being fat meant you were rich. Now it correlates more with being poor.

    Let's assume the study is correct. The kids are probably eating at those restaurants for lunch, right? So just prevent them from leaving the school for lunch. Yes, I know it's an infringement on their freedom, but doesn't it make more sense than shutting down legal businesses because of some of their customers?

    Or how about this: fat kids have to take extra PE classes. I'm sure there are other solutions as well, but it's notable that the one suggested by the studies authors involves shutting down businesses.

  • ||

    If they ban fast food restaurants, what will happen is that restaurants designated "non-fast-food" will simply alter their menus and service characterisitics to fill the market gap.

    You'll start seeing more mobile hot-dog stands, for example, and more carry-out counter-ordering places. Sandwich shops will start carrying more hot meatball subs and start serving french fries.

    The market will simply adapt to find ways around the restrictions.

    Markets "want" to be free, because markets are made of people, and people want what they fucking want.

  • ||

    So maximal individual freedom is an imperative? What magical logic did you use to derive that?

    "Maximal human freedom" is an axiom, not a theorem. It doesn't have to be derived.

    Please, Gil, prove to me that maximum individual freedom is of any higher value than any of its competitors on this Earth.

    Why are you against maximal human freedom?

  • Dr. Ian Malcolm||

    Markets "want" to be free

    Markets find a way.

  • ||

    Ah. So glad that 'science' is now back in charge. Good thing the backwards people are no longer in control.

  • mit||

    the real problem is "defining fast food." There are TONS of food options that are unhealthy that are eaten at places that aren't "stereotypical fast food places."

    Does this mean we ban the mom and pop gyro shop, the greasy taco shop, the hot dog stand? What is the definition of fast food? Subway is fast food. Jared Fogle is a modern day american hero.

    What this really comes down to is an anti-corporate sentiment.

    My question is, why the hell do you care if your neighbor is a fatty? Yes, maybe you have to pay for his health care, but that shouldn't be the case in the first place. Anyways, if that was the case, we should be against life saving drugs, which result in people living longer, which results in more medical care.

  • stuartl||

    Is it possible that the hidden correlation is the amount of exercise the kids get? Is it a surprise that the kids that need to walk .5 miles a day for their fast food fix are less obese than the kids only walking .2 miles.

    Add in some running when they realize they are late getting back to class and the calories burned might start to mean something.

    Maybe the law should be to add some hills on the way to the FF joints.

  • CLS||

    Is the relatively small difference in weight between the two groups evidences that students eat more often at the restaurant or that those who have to walk longer distances exercise more. So does the study measure diet or does it study exercise? Is the diet of students at the further away schools sufficiently different to explain the weight differences?

    If the difference is exercise then what? That would imply the problem is the exercise of the students not the diet. In that case by their same logic, the answer is to force students to run laps. Would they support that?

    In addition was measures were taken to account for neighborhood differences. Were the schools in the two groups of similar demographics? Were the cultural differences between groups accounted for? For instance, you get fast food restaurants more frequently in urban areas than in suburban areas. Urban areas may have poorer students who don't eat as well at home. Suburban kids have restaurants more spread apart but also will eat healthier meals at home.

  • ||

    That's not the argument being discussed - the argument is if it justified to impose a restriction on the type of restaurant that is opened near a school just because there is a study that shows a relationship between easy access to fast food near a school and having overweight students. Stephen thinks that the way to argue is to show alternatives to this policy, when the very argument is fallacious.

    Well, it was the argument short, fat bastard responded to directly. But if someone says, "Fast foods are bad, so we need to restrict some ones property rights to fix things," you want to argue, "No, you shouldn't mess with people's property rights." Stephen wants to say, "Instead of messing with people's property rights, look at how it's unwarranted government intervention in the market that creates a surfeit of fast food places." They both strike me as relevant responses to the proposal.

  • ||

    Let's assume that the ban on fast food near schools will reduce obesity by some not insignificant amount, as the authors claim. Isn't there an easier way to reduce the obesity rate with less cost and inconvenience to the general population? After school exercise programs, incentives for eating healthy food, mandatory 15 mile marches for the obese students in question...

  • ||

    Isn't there an easier way to reduce the obesity rate with less cost and inconvenience to the general population? After school exercise programs, incentives for eating healthy food, mandatory 15 mile marches for the obese students in question...

    No kidding.
    Everyone knows that exercise is more important than dieting if you're trying to lose weight.
    So why focus on banning fast food?

    If you're trying to rein in obesity, the most bang-for-your-buck is going to come from mandatory morning calisthenics. banning fast food restaurants is needlessly intrusive.

  • ||

    My question is, why the hell do you care if your neighbor is a fatty? Yes, maybe you have to pay for his health care, but that shouldn't be the case in the first place.

    That's one of the primary reasons to be against socialized health care. Since anything can affect health, then almost anything can be regulated under the rationale that it raises health care costs.

    We're seeing this exact phenomenon with tobacco, firearms, alcohol, fast food, and other risky lifestyle choices. However, it's only the risky and socially disapproved ones that are subjected to regulation, the risky-but-socially acceptable ones are excused.

  • Elemenope||

    a) people are born free

    People are born helpless and tethered and under the plenary authority of others. About, in fact, as far from any meaningful notion of freedom as one can get.

    Why are you against maximal human freedom?

    I'm not. I am however against Gil being a smarmy smartass who lays out "arguments" by presenting his personal axioms as objective self-evident truths.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "I'm not. I am however against Gil being a smarmy smartass who lays out "arguments" by presenting his personal axioms as objective self-evident truths."

    Well that's tough, fat boy.

    You see, the value of any outcome relative to any other is strictly a matter of personal opinion.

    And since there is literally no one else who has ever lived on this earth in the entire span of human history who has ever accomplished anything whatsoever in his or her entire life that proves they are any wiser than I am in assigning values to outcomes, I'll stick with my own personal preference on the matter.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "That's one of the primary reasons to be against socialized health care. Since anything can affect health, then almost anything can be regulated under the rationale that it raises health care costs."

    Yep.

    Government meddling begats more government meddling.

  • ||

    We're seeing this exact phenomenon with tobacco, firearms, alcohol, fast food, and other risky lifestyle choices.

    One of these things is not like the others . . . .

  • Bronwyn||

    As a recently pregnant woman, I can tell you that the proximity of McDonald's to my office indeed facilitated the fulfillment of my frequent Big Mac cravings; however, I was willing to venture further to satisfy my milkshake cravings.

    Good luck keeping pregnant from their fast food, nanny-staters. You won't live long if you try, and that, in the end, would be best for all of us. So go ahead and try :)

  • Bronwyn||

    pregnant WOMEN from their fast food...

    *sigh*

    5 months later, and I've *still* got baby brain

  • alan||

    These ninnies never look on the bright side. With the youth obesity epidemic, the current generation of children are becoming too ugly to screw. That should take care of the pedophile problem.

  • James J.B.||

    Well, I guess we've made it. For a good portion of the world, and most of human history, people try to situate their homes/towns near sources of food. Now it's our turn to pass laws to move food away from that trend.

    Bravo! Please government protect me from myself!

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