Healthy foods not enough to tackle obesity

30 April 2014


Life Desk  :

The improving access to healthy foods, an initiative by Government to curb obesity in the US, has not been very successful, reveals a research by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Disadvantaged neighbourhoods often lack access to low-cost healthy foods, which has led to recent US policy initiatives that focus on increasing the number of local supermarkets through grants and loans. These programmes include the $400 million Healthy Food Financing Initiative, promoted by the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, and New York City's FRESH programme, which continue to be rolled out in urban areas of the US. But to date, there have been no formal evaluations of how effective these programmes actually are at improving diet and reducing obesity.
Now a study being published in the February issue of Health Affairs has provided the first US-based evidence that building new food retail stores is not sufficient to improve the diets of low-income residents.
The researchers investigated the impact of a new supermarket opening in a low-income community in Philadelphia, classified as a "food desert" by the US Department of Agriculture. The supermarket is part of the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which has been responsible for 88 new or expanded food retail outlets in the area.After studying around 650 residents over a period of four years, the results showed that although there were improvements in residents' perceptions of food accessibility, these did not translate into significant changes in diet.
Few residents chose to shop at the new supermarket once it opened, with only 27% of residents adopting it as their main food store and just 51% using it for any food shopping at all.
Despite the programme's objectives of improving diet, exposure to the new supermarket had no significant impact on reducing obesity or increasing daily fruit and vegetable intake.These findings mirror the results of previous UK-based studies, which also found no significant evidence for any effect on diet.

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