April 19 2012

The Jig Is Up on Food Deserts

Julie Gunlock

NRO's The Homefront

I’m happy to see the New York Times report on two new studies about food deserts that, as the Times put it “have found something unexpected.”

Um, yeah, they don’t exist.

If you’re not familiar with the term “food desert,” I’ll refer you to this page on the White House website, which is dedicated to discussing these “nutritional wastelands.” Or you could visit the first lady’s Let’s Move website where you can find information on the $10 million in federal grants available to local governments that want to find a solution to this non-problem.

Two separate research organizations — the Rand Corporation and the Public Policy Institute of California — have recently found that food deserts don’t actually exist. In fact, individuals living in these so-called food deserts have more, not less, access to nutritious food and fresh fruits and vegetables.

According to the Times story:

It was difficult to design a study that could rigorously answer the questions: Do poor urban neighborhoods lack places to buy fresh produce and is that contributing to obesity? But Helen Lee of the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, found a way. . . .

Poor neighborhoods, Dr. Lee found, had nearly twice as many fast food restaurants and convenience stores as wealthier ones, and they had more than three times as many corner stores per square mile. But they also had nearly twice as many supermarkets and large-scale grocers per square mile.

Similarly, the Rand study found so-called food deserts are not responsible for obesity or poor diets among children. The Times reports (emphasis mine):

Dr. Sturm [lead author of the Rand study] found no relationship between what type of food students said they ate, what they weighed, and the type of food within a mile and a half of their homes.

He has also completed a national study of middle school students, with the same result — no consistent relationship between what the students ate and the type of food nearby. Living close to supermarkets or grocers did not make students thin and living close to fast food outlets did not make them fat.

As I said, I’m glad the Times is reporting on these new studies. It’s important that we focus on the real reasons kids are suffering from obesity rather than wasting time (and taxpayer dollars!) on make-believe (yet politically expedient) issues such as food deserts.

But the Times couldn’t help itself in absolving the Obama administration of all guilt in perpetuating the food-desert myth. The Times writer actually states that “it is unclear how the idea took hold that poor urban neighborhoods were food deserts.”

Yeah, it’s a real mystery how this “food desert” myth was perpetuated. Here’s a clue for the New York Times: Take a look at some of the first lady’s speeches on obesity. Take a look at the Let’s Move campaign’s website. Or just spend 30 seconds Googling food deserts.

It doesn’t take a journalism degree to find out who’s been pushing the food-desert canard on the American public.

Let’s just hope she stops.

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