Back in 2011, right after the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed a regulation to ban fast-food restaurants South Los Angeles, I wrote about a new study that shed doubt on the efficacy of bans of this sort having any affect on obesity rates. As I wrote at the time, the study found that poor people really don’t eat that much fast food. Instead, the researchers found that as people’s income increased, so did their hunger for fast food meals.
The study was important for several reasons: first, it destroyed the “it’s good for you” excuse used by those who push these bans. Second, it exposed how patronizing, paternalistic and ultimately unnecessary these regulations are since they’re missing the very demographic eating at fast food restaurants.
Of course, at the time, food writers, politicians and health activists were lauding the fast food ban as a positive step towards helping people make better nutrition decisions.
Now, several years later, we know the results of this ban.
The Atlantic reports (emphasis mine):
On Friday, the ban got a dose of bad news: A study released by the RAND Corporation revealed that the ordinance had "failed to reduce fast-food consumption or reduce obesity rates in the targeted neighborhood." In fact, obesity rates in the area had grown at a faster clip than elsewhere in the city. As NBC News reported, the percentage of people in South Los Angeles who were overweight or obese in 2007 was 63 percent. By 2011, that figure was 75 percent.
You know what has also increased in South Los Angeles during this timeframe? Unemployment. A 2012 Los Angeles Times article on the subject had this grim report:
Two decades after the L.A. riots brought pledges of help to rebuild South Los Angeles, the area is worse off in many ways than it was in 1992.
Median income, when adjusted for inflation, is lower. Many middle-class blacks have fled in search of safer neighborhoods and better schools.
And the unemployment rate, which was bad at the time of the riots, has reached even more dire levels. In two areas of South Los Angeles — Florence Graham and Westmont — unemployment is almost 24%. Back in 1992, it was 21% in Florence Graham and 17% in Westmont.
Oddly, the LA Times article failed to mention one of the main reason for this area's sustained unemployment problem — that the city council had actually worked to ban the very industry that offers low-skilled jobs in fast food restaurants. Perhaps that little nugget of information would have been useful to the paper's readers.
This is an important lesson about the unintended consequences of "good for you" government policies. They might sound good on paper but they rarely work and sometimes, these policy prescriptions leave the very people they are intended to help worse off than before. Perhaps if politicians hadn't banned job-creating businesses from locating in South Los Angeles, unemployment rates wouldn't be so high. But unfortunately, both unemployment and obesity rates continue to increase, thanks largely to potiticians' efforts to “help” poor people.