March 23, 2009

Keep the Good Food Close

An interesting study out of Columbia University suggests that access to plentiful supplies of healthy food (i.e. fresh fruits and vegetables) matters more than limiting access to unhealthy food (e.g. fast food restaurants and convenience stores). The researchers examined the link between Body Mass Index (BMI) and the prevalence of either healthy or unhealthy food options in NYC neighborhoods. They found that:
[A] higher density of BMI-healthy food outlets was associated with a lower mean BMI, a lower prevalence of overweight adults, and a lower prevalence of obesity. BMI-unhealthy food stores and restaurants were far more abundant than healthy ones, but the density of these unhealthy food outlets was not significantly associated with BMI or with body size categories. The study indicates that retail outlets providing opportunities for healthier food purchases are associated with lower BMI.
If further investigation bears this out, then at a minimum we can call off the fast-food closing shock troops that so worry Anthony Bourdain. But it also suggests that focusing on providing more traditional grocery stores and farmers markets in so-called food deserts offers a significant bang for the buck. Not that we shouldn't look to limit the bad stuff, but it may prove easier to enact plans like Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's foodshed reform if you don't have to worry as much about tearing down all the fast food outlets.

Photo by EssG used under a CC license

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