February 3, 2014, 3:04 p.m.
The logic seems simple enough: the consumption of healthy foods is low, and obesity is high, in neighborhoods where supermarkets are notably absent; so, opening supermarkets in those neighborhoods should boost consumption of healthier foods and drive down obesity. Right?
Not so fast, says the first American study gauging the success of a popular initiative aimed at combatting obesity: improving access to fresh produce and healthy food in the nation’s “food deserts.”
Six months after the grand opening of a new supermarket in Philadelphia, the study found, residents of the surrounding low-income neighborhood were not eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, nor were they less likely to be obese than were low-income Philadelphians across town whose neighborhood continued to be a food desert.
But compared with those trapped in food deserts, the residents of the newly served neighborhood did perceive their access to fruits and vegetables to be greater, and the cost of that produce to have declined, the study said. And among the roughly half of residents who said they were shopping at the new store, the trends in fruit-and-vegetable consumption were positive.
And that, said authors, is a start.