As study after study shows that Americans are gaining dangerous amounts of weight, many public policy experts have striven to find effective regulatory solutions. In 2008, Los Angeles officials sought to curb unhealthy eating in its impoverished South LA neighborhood by imposing a ban on new fast-food restaurants. However, according to recent independent research from the Rand Corporation, instead of becoming healthier, people in the neighborhood actually gained weight between 2007 and 2012.
The study looked at those who were either obese or simply overweight and found a startling rise from 63% to 75%. While the studies only looked at South LA, a relatively small part of the city, the neighborhood comprises some 700,000 residents, creating a huge potential sample. Given that the national obesity rate only ticked up a single percentage point in the same period, the results are dismaying for public health experts in LA.
The Rand report suggested that the ban failed to achieve its aims because the zoning laws only targeted traditional fast-food establishments and didn’t encompass all kinds of unhealthy foods. Furthermore, the law never managed to address the other part of the problem: lack of access to local healthy food outlets. Others have claimed that an influx of Latino residents in South LA may have had an effect, though this suggestion relies on anecdotal data. The LA County Department of Public Health has acknowledged the report, but has urged people to refrain from making any judgments, arguing that changing people’s habits can require far more than a few years of a single policy.