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In The News: LA Lays Down The Law

Controversy is cooking in California, where a new law was passed that “prevents fast-food chains from opening new restaurants in a 32-square-mile area [of South Los Angeles] for one year, with the possibility of two six-month extensions.”

This particular area of Los Angeles — formerly, and commonly, known as South-Central Los Angeles — has the highest obese rates in its county.

In fact, the latest figures place 30% of adults in South Los Angeles as obese, whereas 20.9% of adults in that respective county fall into that same category.

Diabetes figure are also higher in Southern LA (11.7%) than the rest of the county (8.1%).

It’s worth nothing that this particular piece of policy defines a fast-food restaurant as “any establishment which dispenses food for consumption on or off the premises, and which has the following characteristics: a limited menu, items prepared in advance or prepared or heated quickly, no table orders and food served in disposable wrapping or containers.”

A few points of interest:

Some lawmakers have called into question the “limited menu” aspect of the definition, explaining that many fast food restaurants expand their menus as time goes on.

Additionally, “fast-food casual” restaurants, such as Subway or Pastagina, that do not have heat lamps or drive-through windows and prepare fresh food to order” are exempt.

While I think this is a step in the right direction, I am interested in seeing how effective this will be towards improving the health of residents.

There are still literally hundreds of fast food chains in the area, and, perhaps more disturbingly, “the area has far fewer grocery stores than other parts of town.”

This is always a dilemma in the public health and nutrition fields — how do you encourage people to improve their eating habits when they are so used to — and dependent on — a quick fix?

My proposal?

First, strike a deal with these fast-food restaurants that would entail them offering their healthier items at a reduced cost for a week, so as to encourage consumers to try them out.

Then, offer free nutrition workshops at local community centers with an emphasis on healthy, low-cost, quick recipes.

A lot of this dependence on fast food stems from convenience, a lack of nutrition education, affordability, and lack of alternative options.

That is not some armchair theory, it is what I can recall from my own experience.

Upon completing my undergraduate degree a few years ago, I lived in Washington Heights, a New York City neighborhood that has a high percent of low-income residents.

The local supermarkets had terrible produce, and healthier convenience foods were nowhere to be found (i.e.: low-sodium varieties of canned foods, whole wheat crackers, baby carrots, etc.)

The restaurants within a half mile radius of my building? All fast food.

If I was ever not in the mood to cook, my only options were fried chicken, Chinese takeout, or McDonald’s.

The situation in South Los Angeles is the same.

Hopefully this community will be given resources — specifically nutrition education, healthier restaurants, and supermarkets with decent offerings.

Thank you to Sandy R. for bringing this article to my attention.

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