Fast Food

Obesity Rose Most in Areas of L.A. Where Fast Food Openings Were Banned

Magic bullet Fail



Since 2008, new fast food establishments have been banned from opening in South Los Angeles, as part of the city council's attempt to nudge citizens towards making healthier food choices. This week Rand Corp. reports that since the regulation took effect, the obesity rate in L.A. has grown everywhere, with significantly greater increases in neighborhoods covered by the ordinance. 

Between 2007 and 2012, the obesity rate in South L.A. rose from 63 percent to 75 percent, according to Rand Corp, which analyzed data from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. In other parts of L.A. county, the obesity rate rose from 57 percent to 58 percent. From the Los Angeles Times

"What has changed? Well, nothing," said Roland Sturm, lead author of the study and a senior economist at Rand, who called the restriction symbolic. 

The report contradicts statements from the nonprofit Community Health Councils, which fought to uphold the restriction by citing county figures showing a 3% drop in obesity.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who co-wrote the zoning restriction with former Councilwoman Jan Perry, said  … the ordinance was meant to be part of a larger strategy that includes bringing grocery stores and farmers markets to replace fast-food restaurants, but that part has been more difficult to accomplish.

As Matt Welch pointed out in 2010, this is an area of the city that could desperately use some jobs. Health issues aside, what the city council has done is prevent new businesses that actually would open in (and bring jobs to) South L.A. from doing so while failing to bring alternative businesses (and jobs) to the area. Meanwhile, the ban hasn't accomplished any of its intended health goals either. 

Some will say the ban's failure to thwart rising obesity is because the zoning rule didn't go far enough: "The zoning rule was very specific," the Times notes. "Applying only to stand-alone restaurants with limited menus, items prepared in advance or prepared quickly, no table orders and disposable containers," the rule "didn't target many of the places that serve unhealthy food." But American food is by and large unhealthy. Targeting everywhere that served unhealthy food would include most restaurants, convenience stores, and supermarkets. Even if every existing fast-food joint in South L.A. shut down, residents could still find meals every bit as bad at the grocery store or sit-down restaurant or corner bodega.

Lawmakers want one type of eatery, one offending beverage, one no-no nutrient that, if abolished from American diets, will reverse the course on this whole obesity trend. Because what we actually need is a lot more nuanced and a lot tougher sell: widespread shifts in cultural atittudes toward food; increases in nutrition knowledge; and overhauling of food policies that kill innovation and subsidize the foods that are killing us. You can see why lawmakers prefer to focus on limiting the number of McDonald's. 

"Researchers agree that even without an empirical effect, policies can start conversations that change societal norms," the Times states. Gwendolyn Flynn, nutrition policy director for Community Health Councils, "has noticed that at community meetings in South L.A., there is often fruit and water among the pastries and soda. 'That's huge,'" she said. 

It might sound radical, but perhaps community meetings could provide fruit and water without a banning economic activity from South L.A.?

Here's Reason TV on the ban in 2011: 

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  1. Of course at the root of a fast food ban is the notion that these people (cough, black people, cough) can’t be trusted to make the correct decisions.

    But somehow that’s not racist because these policies are being implemented by well-intentioned liberals.

  2. Tell me, how are zoning laws not an unconsitutional taking?

    1. Ahem – because fuck you, that’s why. Although if the laws are in place prior to your purchase of the property, they are not a taking as you are not losing any anticipated use. If they change the zoning after you have purchased, then that is of course a taking.

    2. Theoretically zoning so improves the neighborhood that property values increase for everyone in it. In other words, they’re not taking some of the value of some people’s property to aid others, they’re forcing collective action that improves welfare over what everyone’s individual choices would make it. Don’t blame me, I didn’t do it. Keynesianism similarly says that by diminishing saving (by inflation, for instance), everyone’s welfare will improve more than it would if they were allowed to save as much as they wanted.

  3. Government should have just banned all food. Period.

    1. That’ll solve the obesity problem quickly!

  4. A fast food ban works just like a gun ban. If the surrounding communities don’t ban it, then people will just travel a little further to get their contraband. Curiously, this does not apply to food deserts, because in that case people can’t travel outside their neighborhood to get groceries. So apparently food deserts and fast food deserts do not work the same.

    1. In this case, all they need to do is continue to eat at the fast food places already in existence.

  5. Government fails. Shocking.

  6. Dammit, they did something!

    The something was misdiagnose the problem and provide an ineffectual solution, but they tried!

    They just need expanded powers, then they will solve it!

  7. The solution is to ban the consumption of foods that Council finds contribute to obesity. Use the mandatory voting police, who aren’t busy the other 364 days of the year, to monitor compliance.

  8. Fast food is really unhealthy but most of us like it because it is tasty and easy to have but at the end the diseases are waiting for us.

  9. Obesity is one of the causes of sexual failure for so many men. There must be a solution for such evil before it causes cancer in the prostate.

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