A law meant to curb high rates of obesity in a part of Los Angeles did not curb obesity or improve diets by preventing new fast-food restaurants from opening, according to data published in a new study.
Despite the ban, overweight and obesity rates have gone up faster in those areas than compared to the rest of the city or Los Angeles County, according to a RAND Corp. study published
"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, the study's lead author and a senior economist at RAND Corp.
The restrictions were enacted in 2008, limiting new fast-food franchises in a 34-square mile area, in a bid to combat high rates of obesity and being overweight. The study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, concluded the ordinance passed by LA City Council did not suceed in checking obesity rates there.
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Before the ban, 63 percent of South LA residents were overweight or obese, while 57 percent of other county residents were, the study said. Three years after the ban started, 75 percent of residents in the area were obses, while the rest of the county was nearly as overweight or obese as it had been.
The restriction was enacted in an area south of the 10 Freeway in South Los Angeles where about 700,000 people live.
Fast-food restaurants make up just one part of the food scene and there are more small food stores or restaurants in the area, Sturm explained. The restrictions don't affect them, and they did not prevent new fast-food restaurants from opening in strip malls.
Researchers studied permits issued by the LA County Department of Health from 2008 to 2012 and found no new licenses for stand-alone fast-food restaurants but 17 new chain outlets in shopping centers and food courts. A sizeable portion of the new permits went to convenience stores that are free to sell junk food and soda.
"The one bright spot we found is that soft drink consumption dropped, but the decrease was similar in all areas across Los Angeles," co-author Aiko Hattori said.
It will take time before real effects are felt, supporters of the LA ordinance argued. The restrictions have prevented new restaurant chains from claiming busy intersections - and that should be counted as a success.
"We never said this ordinance was the silver bullet" to solving the obesity problem, said Gwen Flynn of the Community Health Councils. "As long as we can make sure people have more options, that's the important thing."