More supermarkets don't mean better health

Tue Jul 12, 2011 10:58am EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Living close to supermarkets and grocery stores did not mean that urban dwellers ate more fruits and vegetables, or had a healthier overall diet, according to a U.S. study.

Having more fast-food restaurants nearby, though, did mean that low-income men ate at the chain restaurants more often, the study in Archives of Internal Medicine said.

Researchers and policymakers think "food deserts" -- poor neighborhoods with few or no healthy food options -- may be linked to the obesity epidemic. The problem hasn't been easy to solve, however, especially because supermarkets and health-food stores are reluctant to open branches in low-income areas.

But the link between food access and what people eat is complicated, said study author Penny Gordon-Larsen, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"It's not simply enough to introduce a grocery store," she told Reuters Health.

"Our findings provide some evidence for zoning restrictions on fast food restaurants within 3 km of low-income residents but suggest that increased access to food stores may require complementary or alternative strategies to promote dietary behavior change," she and her colleagues wrote.

The study tracked about 5,000 young adults living in four cities: Birmingham, Alabama, Chicago, Illinois, Minneapolis, Minnesota and Oakland, California.

Starting in 1985, researchers surveyed the participants every few years about their eating habits, including their intake of fruits and vegetables, and how often they visited fast-food restaurants.

At the same time, the researchers calculated how many fast-food chain restaurants, grocery stores, and supermarkets were within walking or short driving distance from each person's home.   Continued...

<p>A customer shops for chickens at a Sam's Club store in Arkansas, June 4, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi</p>