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.
But two new studies have found something unexpected. 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.
Not only are the First Lady's assumptions about "food deserts" wrong, but the idea that increasing the amounts of "healthy" foods in a neighborhood will result in slimmer waistlines is just absurd. “It is always easy to advocate for more grocery stores,” says Kelly D. Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. “But if you are looking for what you hope will change obesity, healthy food access is probably just wishful thinking.”
Quick, Mrs. O: You have a plate of green beans in front of you and a plate of french fries. Which would you first choose to eat? (Duh.)