Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Obesity ghettos?

When my students in WR 222 want to argue about obesity rates and causes (going deeper than the obvious - too much food, too little exercise), I have lately been steering them to consider the correlation/causation between poverty and obesity. Now, news from Canada, illustrates this in a new way with an obesity map overlapping regions of obesity with locations of fast food restaurants. This notion of geographic determinism is not new. David Zinczenko's "Don't Blame the Eater" excerpted in New York Times Nov 23, 2002 (and reprinted completly in the They Say, I Say textbook we use) makes this very clear:
Shouldn't we know better than to eat two meals a day in fast-food restaurants? That's one argument. But where, exactly, are consumers -- particularly teenagers -- supposed to find alternatives? Drive down any thoroughfare in America, and I guarantee you'll see one of our country's more than 13,000 McDonald's restaurants. Now, drive back up the block and try to find someplace to buy a grapefruit.
The same notion of healthy food deserts is echoed in Lisa Takeuchi Cullen's June 4, 2004 article for Time "Not too rich or too thin" where she notes:
Processed foods aren't just cheap, tasty and filling. They're also more accessible. One study found that 28% of Americans live in what nutritionists call "food deserts," places where big supermarkets are at least 10 miles, or a 20-min. drive, away. People who live in these places wind up buying much of their daily groceries from convenience stores or gas stations, where they can find Chef Boyardee but not baby carrots. Some communities are trying to remedy this. Philadelphia, for instance, recently announced a $100 million effort to open 10 supermarkets in urban neighborhoods. But for much of the country, says Troy Blanchard, a sociology professor at Mississippi State University who studies this issue, "you have people who are literally distanced out of healthy diets."
Poverty ghettos are often fast food ghettos which not surprisingly leads to obesity ghettos. We are not only what we eat, but as the Canadian Press points out "where we eat." This makes the war for health a lot more complicated


Blogger amd said...

It was living in Philadelphia in the 80's and 90's that I really learned this lesson. Not only was the produce selection at my local West Philly grocery store paltry when compared to that at stores in wealthier neighborhoods, but most of the produce that they did have was packaged in shrink-wrap and foam, so one couldn't even tell how good it was in the store. I would frequently make the 20-block trek down towards center city to shop at more expensive markets.

(The big exception to this rule - there were Asian-owned sidewalk stands occasionally in west Philly - there the produce was better and cheaper than at any market).

Philly's doing some interesting stuff now - going even beyond the supermarket initiative. There's a much more ambitious plan I've seen mentioned that calls for in-filling vacant lots and other abandoned urban spaces with farms. This post at Bldg Blog has a really ambitious vision of that kind of future for the city. But it's not all future talk - there are real projects right now. Like Greensgrow, built on a brownlot.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Sara Jameson said...

That must be as a result of the efforts in Philadelphia that Cullen mentions. Thanks for letting me know about progress!

9:11 AM  

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