published Thursday, June 21st, 2012

'Food swamps'

An idea popularized in recent years is that Americans in poor neighborhoods have woefully limited access to nutritious foods because of a lack of supermarkets. They must rely, it is assumed, on small, corner markets with limited stocks of fresh fruits and vegetables. Or they wind up at fast-food restaurants. And all that leads, at least in theory, to obesity among children and adults alike.

These areas go by the alarming label "food deserts."

Food deserts got some recent attention locally with news that a mobile market supported by some social service organizations is taking produce and other healthful foods into those areas for sale at prices comparable to those found in traditional grocery stores. The idea is to help people in the areas in question gain better access to such foods, because supermarkets have shown little interest in building in certain urban settings.

There are, of course, reasons why stores are not built in some areas. Higher crime rates drive up companies' costs in terms of inventory loss and insurance, as well as in other ways. If they can get a better return on their investment by building elsewhere, it's scarcely a surprise that they do so.

What's more, despite the hyping of the "food desert" crisis by personalities including first lady Michelle Obama, the whole concept appears to be a bit of a myth.

"[T]wo new studies have found something unexpected," the New York Times reported recently. "[Food desert] neighborhoods not only have more fast-food restaurants and convenience stores than more affluent ones, but more grocery stores, supermarkets and full-service restaurants, too. And there is no relationship between the type of food being sold in a neighborhood and obesity among its children and adolescents.

"Within a couple of miles of almost any urban neighborhood, 'you can get basically any type of food,' said Roland Sturm of the RAND Corp., lead author of one of the studies. 'Maybe we should call it a food swamp rather than a desert,' he said."

That's not to say obesity in those and other areas isn't a problem. It obviously is, and it contributes to the high costs of medical care.

Neither is it to say that the local market on wheels isn't a good idea. It may provide a valuable and convenient service to quite a few Chattanoogans.

Where skepticism is called for is in the federal government's ceaseless interventions to fight obesity. Combating apparently illusory "food deserts" is part of Washington's many-faceted anti-obesity crusade. But as even the Times -- no enemy of a bigger federal government -- acknowledges, "Despite campaigns to get Americans to exercise more and eat healthier foods, obesity rates have not budged over the past decade, according to recently released federal data."

And Kelly Brownell, head of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, told the newspaper, "It is always easy to advocate for more grocery stores. But if you are looking for what you hope will change obesity, healthy food access is probably just wishful thinking."

And wishful thinking doesn't trim waistlines.

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Or maybe the study is flawed. Maybe you missed the refutation of them?

Or do you just look at the flawed attempts to refute Climate Change studies?

Besides, the last decade? Most of it was under George W. Bush, so what do you think he really did? The same thing he did with NCLB...gave into the corporate lobbyists who the last thing they cared about was actually fixing the problem. They just wanted money for themselves.

But hey, don't worry, another Farm Bill is going to be passed. Sure, most of it is going to be subsidies for big corporations, but I bet if we eliminated the food stamps, it'd be all good.

June 21, 2012 at 12:17 a.m.
Easy123 said...

This is propaganda at its finest. It's a shame that an article as biased as this one can make it in to any news paper. The Free Press is a joke.

June 21, 2012 at 12:22 a.m.

Oh come on, their "Tolerance" protest makes this look almost honest.

Also, here's a response to that information:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/25/time-to-revisit-food-deserts/

I wonder why, with OVER A MONTH of time, the TFP can't seem to get up to date.

Maybe they just store this stuff up as filler, and don't care about the truth coming out later.

June 21, 2012 at 12:38 a.m.
moon4kat said...

I wish the Free Press side of the TFP would try to educate people with factually-reliable information, instead of reinforcing ignorance with bloviating bias. It's tiresome to read so many pieces that are based on demonstrably false information.

June 21, 2012 at 7:49 a.m.
conservative said...

Did you ever notice that there is no end to liberal ideas to spend other people's money? This is just another scheme to scam the taxpayer.

There are scores of wealthy liberals so why doesn't Michelle Obama ask them to open stores in these neighborhoods? Oprey Winfrey comes to mind.

June 21, 2012 at 8:30 a.m.
chatt_man said...

Of course the study is flawed... the findings don't support your argument.

June 21, 2012 at 10:36 a.m.

chatt_man: Or...perhaps you believe the study is unquestionable because it does support your gut instincts.

So you deliberately blind yourself to the flaws. It's like how conservatives wax poetic over Rasmussen polls.

And Oprah Winfrey's charitable acts are quite well known. As are Bill Gates. Go find somebody else to criticize.

Like Wal-Mart.

http://www.foodfirst.org/en/node/3018

It's funny, Wal-Mart seems to love to get TaxPayer money, yet Conservative is conspicuously silent on that.

June 21, 2012 at 12:18 p.m.
Easy123 said...

I would bet Conservative and Chattman have never done any research on 'food deserts' and they are basing their opinions on this one study. You are both ignorant to the facts of "food deserts". I know this because if you saw all the information about "food deserts", you would understand how biased this article/study is.

A 'food desert' is more than just a place without supermarkets. There are a plethora of factors the add up for a place to be deemed a "food desert".

June 21, 2012 at 1:03 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

I want you to beef up the intellectual quality of these editorials. Look at this mess you're sending out over the Internet. You'd be better off spooning applesauce over the keyboard of your computer.

I want you to get some books from the "Oxford Studies in Digital Politics" series. They're put out by Oxford University Press. I was able to get one from a local library.

Pick them up and read them over. Then look at these editorials you are writing. It was okay when Lee Anderson, a man who was old to the news business before most of you were born, was writing these. You have a new editor now. Think, please.

You cannot just blather about anything and call it an editorial. It helps to have a point. What is the relationship between this editorial and a public policy or newsworthy event? What lesson are we going to glean from reading this? How are your readers going to be focused on directing the spending of government funds or insisting on the editing of laws? What are people going to do in response to reading an editorial?

You're writing editorials that generate zero substantive answers. You are lacking clear direction. Get some. Research these issues before publishing.

Did you go to a local poor neighborhood and try to use the grocery store? Can you relate any of these matters discussed here, about groceries, to anything local?

There's a soup kitchen within a stone's throw of your offices. Do you want to go down there and tell poor people they are living in a "food swamp"? How stupid would you look then? About as stupid as you look now; because, that's what you just did.

You are aware that The Free Press was started as an advertisement for a local farmer's goods, right? Call the MacDonalds. They will have an opinion on agriculture and produce. Right now, you don't. Try borrowing theirs. Then do some more research. Then rewrite this applesauce into an article that passes for an editorial. Thanks.

June 21, 2012 at 1:52 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Generally speaking, pretty much every time you write something that has to do with poor people, I want you to go down to the community kitchen, and imagine yourself selling your opinion to the people gathered there.

Those people know poverty. The volunteers, the patrons, the people in the area: they understand what it's like to be poor. If you can't get them to agree with you on the basic facts of being poor in Chattanooga, then it could be that your opinion is so unrealistic as to be a fictional fantasy. Stop publishing fantasy.

When you lecture us through editorials on matters that touch the poor, be sure you are right first. You're not in this case. And, I've seen a long standing tendency for your younger editorial staffers to be wrong in the past few years. I really don't think you are getting out there and meeting with people. You need to start.

Fix it. Don't blather out an editorial like this again. If you're not ready to publish, then don't. We are not so hungry to read your opinions that we insist that you have three of these up at a time. Instead, get a position and write an editorial that counts.

Test that position, before publishing, by thinking about that community kitchen test I outlined for you above.

And don't try to #$%^&*I us into thinking that the poor live in "food swamps." It's an insult to our intelligence when an idiot tries to reason us into believing the opposite of the truth.

Face the poverty. Do some research. Write a decent editorial.

June 21, 2012 at 2:08 p.m.
Humphrey said...

They looked at the locations of "stores" on google maps to do the "study."

So if there was a lottery ticket and beer selling convenience store with barred up windows in an area then it was marked as a food store.

No need to have fresh produce or meats or anything like that. If you could get a bag of chips there was a food store.

Sure enough, there were "food swamps" not "food deserts."

That is a lesson in inability to look at the window and see the real world.

The shame is, something as basic as making it easier for poor people, for elderly people, disabled people - people who have a hard time with transportation that those of us lucky enough to drive - to make it easier for them to get groceries has to be politicized. The first lady said that nutrition is important, so that means that some folks have to be so narrow minded that if she said it they have to make it out to be a bad thing.

Some people will get too wrapped up in thinking about politics as a football game where you either for one team or the other and that anything the other team says will make your team look bad that they can't remember good old fashioned common decency. It's a shame it really is. And they forget common sense too.

June 22, 2012 at 10:03 a.m.
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