Fast-food ban in L.A. fails to improve diets or cut obesity, study finds

The media release is below.

PUBLIC RELEASE: 19-MAR-2015
Fast-food ban in L.A. fails to improve diets or cut obesity, study finds

RAND CORPORATION

A Los Angeles ordinance designed to curb obesity in low-income areas by restricting the opening of new fast-food restaurants has failed to reduce fast-food consumption or reduce obesity rates in the targeted neighborhoods, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

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, according to findings published online by the journal Social Science & Medicine.

“The South Los Angeles fast food ban may have symbolic value, but it has had no measurable impact in improving diets or reducing obesity,” said Roland Sturm, lead author of the study and a senior economist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “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 policy is a zoning regulation that restricts the opening or expansion of any “stand-alone fast-food restaurant” in Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park, and portions of South Los Angeles and Southeast Los Angeles. The areas subject to the rule have about 700,000 residents. While the rule was not the nation’s first local regulation limiting fast-food outlets, it was the first one presented as a public health measure by advocates.

Sturm and co-author Aiko Hattori of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, examined the fast-food ban by analyzing information from two sources. They tracked the opening of new food outlets across the city by reviewing permits issued by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which licenses and inspects all food outlets.

Information about neighborhood eating habits and weight came from three different waves of the California Health Interview Survey, which polls residents across the state about an array of health issues. Participants from South Los Angeles and other neighborhoods targeted by the ordinance were compared to residents from other parts of Los Angeles.

Examining weight trends across the city, researchers found that 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, but was statistically similar across all areas.

Before the ban was passed as well as three years later, the average body mass index (a ratio of weight to height) and the proportion of people who were obese or overweight were higher in South Los Angeles than in other areas of the city. That gap continued to widen from 2008 to 2012.

“The one bright spot we found is that soft drink consumption dropped, but the decrease was similar in all areas across Los Angeles,” Hattori said. “Unfortunately, the rates of overweight and obesity increased and they increased fastest in the area subject to the fast-food ban.”

Researchers found that about 10 percent of food outlets in Los Angeles are new since the regulation was approved, but there was no evidence that the composition of those establishments has changed as a result of the ordinance.

New food outlets in South Los Angeles were most likely to be small food stores while new food outlets in other parts of the city were most likely to be larger independent restaurants.

There were 17 new permits for outlets belonging to larger fast-food chains in South Los Angeles from 2008 to 2012, just slightly more than in other parts of the city, but none of them were stand-alone restaurants. The findings show the ordinance has done little to reshape the retail food landscape in the targeted neighborhoods.

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7 thoughts on “Fast-food ban in L.A. fails to improve diets or cut obesity, study finds”

  1. The objective was to permit local officials to exercise veto authority over decisions made by small businesses in the area – at which it succeeded quite well. The question is this: “Now that it has been shown to be a crock, should we let this law stand?”

  2. Rescind a law just because it doesn’t work? That flies in the face of a long standing American tradition. What’s needed is more restrictive administrative rules that makes the existing eateries less viable, more taxes for education and, maybe, an on-going Federal grants. I doubt it will do much for obesity, but show and activity are what they are really looking for.

  3. Thank God for mass transit!
    Otherwise those people would not have been able to get their fix a few miles away.

  4. When govt becomes nannies, citizens become goats. To make this law really effective, they should just put electric fencing around the target neighbourhoods.

  5. Culture. Genetics. Intelligence. That’s all you need to know.

    And don’t go on about South L.A. being a “food desert.” True, the Supers won’t touch the place, but there are plenty of small markets packed with *affordable* and high quality fruits and vegetables. (Prices are usually a third less than most Supers; I know because I shop in some them, ethnic market fix and all that.)

    I’ll also add that you see the same obesity in the Rural South, where I spend a good deal of time. (My parents live there.) Vegetable gardens abound, yet it’s nothing to see 300 pounders in the Piggly-Wiggly. And it all comes back to culture, genetics and intelligence.

    Whatever problems exist in South L.A. won’t change until the people change, and nagging them incessantly – with a subtext that assumes that they’re just too stupid to figure it all out for themselves – is a waste of time. The City of L.A. ought to better focus its attentions on fixing and replacing their crumbling infrastructure instead, a present crisis that requires something other than easy, feel-good social engineering posturing.
    Just a thought.

    VicB3

  6. Where is the outrage over a law that gives local governments unconstitutional powers to be exercised in the name of “public health”?
    Surely this sets a dangerous precedent. Why the next thing you know they might tell owners of private businesses such as restaurants and bars that they can’t allow smoking in their establishments.

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