It's popular to blame higher rates of obesity among low-income populations on so-called "food deserts" -- areas with limited access to nearby grocery stores. The implication is that if only large retail chains could be incentivized into opening retail outlets in the inner city, residents would make healthier choices, buying and eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. But like that other pillar of conventional wisdom -- blaming obesity on the high cost of fruit and vegetables -- this one simply doesn't stand up to academic scrutiny.
Barry Popkin, Ph.D., at the University of North Carolina, is one of the nation's foremost experts on obesity. He led a team of researchers to analyze data on diet and grocery store access from 5,115 men and women (average age 25) drawn from Chicago, Oakland and Birmingham between 1985 and 2001. The results, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that people did not eat more fruit and vegetables when they had supermarkets nearby. The findings throw a wet blanket on the notion that simply opening more inner-city and rural grocery stores will help halt the spread of obesity among the poor.
As seen previously, socioeconomic explanations of obesity have limitations. For example, one study found that when fruit and vegetable prices were lowered, shoppers used the savings to buy more junk food, thus raising the overall caloric tally of the purchases. The Dole Nutrition Institute is committed to educating all segments of the public about the benefits of a healthy diet, and promoting better nutrition in schools via school gardens, salad bars and classroom curriculum support.