Los Angeles passed an ordinance in 2008 that banned fast food restaurants in South Los Angeles and other neighboring areas within the city. However, a study from RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, revealed that this ordinance was not effective because overweight and obesity rates in areas covered under the fast food ban have increased faster than in other parts of the city.
“The South Los Angeles fast food ban may have symbolic value, but it has had no measurable impact in improving diets or reducing obesity,” said Roland Sturm, lead author of the study and a senior economist at RAND. “This should not come as a surprise: Most food outlets in the area are small food stores or small restaurants with limited seating that are not affected by the policy.”
As a backgrounder, the ordinance is a zoning regulation that restricts or bans the operation or expansion of new or existing standalone fast food restaurant in portions of South Los Angeles and Southeast Los Angeles, as well as in Baldwin Hills and Leimert Part. These covered areas have a residential population of around 700,000.
The ordinance came as a response to the idea that there were two different systems for accessing food in Los Angeles, one with more limited options in an economically depressed part of the city that is predominantly black and Latino, and the other with more variety in more affluent neighbourhoods.
Researchers at RAND examined weight trends across the city using data and information obtained from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, a government office responsible for licensing and inspecting food businesses, and the California Health Interview Survey, another government office responsible for polling residents across the state about health issues.
Findings revealed that from 2007 to 2012, overweight and obesity rates increased in areas covered by the fast food ban.
Furthermore, fast food consumption has increased despite banning the operation or expansion of fast food restaurants. Note that this trend was statistically similar in all other areas in Los Angeles.
It is also worth mentioning that South Los Angeles had higher residents who were either overweight or obese than other areas in the city. This difference continued to widen from 2008 to 2012.
“The one bright spot we found is that soft drink consumption dropped, but the decrease was similar in all areas across Los Angeles,” said Aiko Hattori, coauthor of the study. “Unfortunately, the rates of overweight and obesity increased and they increased fastest in the area subject to the fast-food ban.”
RAND Health is the largest independent health policy research program in the United States, with a broad research portfolio that focuses on health care costs, quality, and public health preparedness, among other topics.
An earlier 2009 study by the same organisation suggested that was unlikely to effectively change the rate of obesity or diabetes in the area. The study argued that rather than focus on calories that come from fast food, policy makers should instead look at junk food snacks from gas stations and convenience stores.
Further details of the study are found in the article “Diet and obesity in Los Angeles County 2007–2012: Is there a measurable effect of the 2008 ‘Fast-Food Ban’?” published in 2015 the journal Social Science and Medicine. The National Institutes of Health funded the study.