South L.A. Actually Gained Weight Following City's Curb on Fast Food

In 2008 the Los Angeles City Council first passed a law that prohibits new fast food outlets from opening within one half-mile of existing ones in South Los Angeles. 

The rationale was that the area was a "food desert" where fresh, healthy produce was hard to find and cheap fast food was just around every corner: Facing a limited supply of Big Macs and Quesaritos, folks south of the 10 freeway would soon all look like Nicole Richie.

It didn't quite work out that way.

A Rand Corporation study released this week found that not only is there "no evidence" that the legal limitation of fast food had any positive effect on the waistlines of South Angelenos, people in the area actually got bigger.

Says Rand:

Since the fast-food restrictions were passed in 2008, overweight and obesity rates in South Los Angeles and other neighborhoods targeted by the law have increased faster than in other parts of the city or other parts of the county ...

Eek.

The study, which said most restaurants in the area were independent and not affected by the law, was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine. Lead author Roland Sturm:

The South Los Angeles fast food ban may have symbolic value, but it has had no measurable impact in improving diets or reducing obesity. This should not come as a surprise: Most food outlets in the area are small food stores or small restaurants with limited seating that are not affected by the policy.

The ban on opening nearby fast-food eateries applies to Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park, and other parts of South L.A. Rand said the area covered by the ordinance has about 700,000 residents.

Researchers used California Health Interview Survey data and compared the numbers to Los Angeles County Department of Public Health restaurant permits in the communities covered by the law.

Our theory? South L.A. has been getting a lot more Latino, too. And, well, Latinos like to eat. The largesse experienced in the community just might correlate with the increase of Spanish-speaking immigrants to the area. (Actually, an even deeper theory we have is that Western food ruined Latino bodies, as indigenous people who eat corn and cacti tend to be pretty skinny. But we'll save that one for next time).

Not only did people get larger, but fast-food consumption actually increased during the time examined, 2007 to 2012, according to a Rand statement. Despite the ban, the number of such outlets grew 10 percent during the study's time frame.

Rand:

 ... Both obesity and being overweight increased in all areas from 2007 to 2012, with the increase being significantly greater in areas covered by the fast-food ordinance. In addition, fast-food consumption increased in all areas since the ban was passed ... 

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Yep. It worked backwards. Now we're just hoping that City Hall will pass a law that would preserve our many potholes.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.


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