Free Markets, Free People
I’m sure you remember a few years ago the LA City Council banned fast food joints from low income neighborhoods for a year. The New York Times explains the reason they thought that was a function of government:
It has become an article of faith among some policy makers and advocates, including Michelle Obama, that poor urban neighborhoods are food deserts, bereft of fresh fruits and vegetables.
The purpose of the ban was to prevent more fast food from being made available in these poor neighborhoods that were considered “food deserts”. The belief, and that’s all it is, was that the availability of fast food and the unavailability of “fresh fruits and vegetables” was a contributor to the obesity found in poor communities.
And the myth had its own narrative too:
Speaking in October on the South Side of Chicago, she said that in too many neighborhoods “if people want to buy a head of lettuce or salad or some fruit for their kid’s lunch, they have to take two or three buses, maybe pay for a taxicab, in order to do it.”
Except for the fact that two new studies say that’s just not true.
Both, using different methodology, came to the same conclusion:
Such neighborhoods not only have more fast food restaurants and convenience stores than more affluent ones, but more grocery stores, supermarkets and full-service restaurants, too. And there is no relationship between the type of food being sold in a neighborhood and obesity among its children and adolescents.
Within a couple of miles of almost any urban neighborhood, “you can get basically any type of food,” said Roland Sturm of the RAND Corporation, lead author of one of the studies. “Maybe we should call it a food swamp rather than a desert,” he said.
Indeed, it is, instead, choice at work. And, as usual, government feels they should be involved in deciding which choices are made. Now, it’s easy to say, “yeah, but it’s obesity and obesity isn’t good for you”.
Given. But does that mean it is government’s job to intrude and attempt to remedy the situation with other people’s money?
Taking into consideration what the two studies have revealed, it seems, as is often the case, that government is barking up the wrong tree. The myth, or if you prefer “article of faith”, seems to be wrong. Actual facts destroy the myth. More than adequate supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables are readily available in poor neighborhoods. The problem is the poor choose not to avail themselves of them.
So obesity among the poor isn’t the fault of “food deserts” (or a lack of food it seems) in poor communities and banning fast food joints and encouraging more grocery stores to locate there isn’t going to help ameliorate the problem. Nor, apparently, is healthier food in schools.
In fact, the only way to really impact obesity is to control choice isn’t it? Dropping weight requires portion control, control of the type of food eaten and a certain level of exercise.
So what’s an intrusive and activist government to do now that their myth has been shattered?