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No Quick Fix For Food Deserts

A new study finds that simply opening stores that offer fresh produce doesn't mean residents in food deserts will change their eating habits.

The Healthy Food Financing Initiative of 2010 gives incentives to groceries to open in low-income areas or stock more produce at smaller stores.

Despite recent efforts to introduce fresh produce to low-income neighborhoods — where fast food restaurants far outnumber grocery stores — changing dietary behavior requires more than providing access to healthy foods.

In a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, researchers interviewed residents in a low-income Philadelphia neighborhood where a new grocery store opened.

The study found that only a quarter of the residents regularly shopped at the store six months after its opening, disappointing advocates of “if you build it, they will come.”

National Initiative

The grocery store opened with funding from the Healthy Food Financing Initiative of 2010, a national effort to supply fresh produce to areas in short supply.

Modeled after a program launched in Pennsylvania in 2004, the Healthy Food Financing Initiative provides incentives to grocery stores opening in “food deserts,” low-income neighborhoods where a lack of healthy food options corresponds with high rates of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

But How Do You Cook It?

In addition to making healthy foods more available, some claim that education about how to prepare those foods is needed.

UCLA has launched a project that provides cooking demonstrations and educational posters in areas of East Los Angeles. Feedback has been positive, but it is still too early to tell whether the program is making any statistically significant impact.

Read More:

  • It Takes More Than A Produce Aisle To Refresh A Food Desert (NPR)
  • Food Deserts Aren’t the Problem (Slate)
  • Siting markets in ‘food deserts’ no quick cure for obesity, study says (Los Angeles Times)
Liz Leslie

Liz Leslie is a journalist based in Chicago. When she's not writing about food, she's likely eating food. Or dreaming about food.

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