You are what you eat

This is pretty common knowledge, but it’s nice to see it supported by data:
In `food deserts’ of city, healthy eating a mirage:

For African-Americans who live in “food deserts” on Chicago’s South and West Sides, where fast-food restaurants are plentiful and grocery stores are scarce, a lack of choices is more than an inconvenience. A provocative new study concludes that residents are more likely to die prematurely from diabetes, cancer and other ailments.
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Starting with the fundamental premise that the well-being of urban communities is a block-by-block phenomenon, Gallagher measured the distance from every Chicago block to the nearest grocery store and fast-food restaurant. She then developed a score to quantify the balance of food choice available to residents.
Finally, Gallagher compared food access to health outcomes shown in Cook County death records, city epidemiology data and outside studies. Gallagher said her calculations show that the correlation between food choice and health holds true regardless of differences in education, income and race.
Overall, though, the study shows the worst food choices fell in African-American neighborhoods.
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“If you’re finding huge disparities, say, in levels of obesity by neighborhood, then you can’t really say that people with genetic deficiencies up and move to the South Side,” Drewnowski said. “The only deficiency, frankly, is in the wallet.”
Though he had not read the report, he said he suspects it suffers from what he dubs the “Chernobyl model of nutrition”–a model that would suggest mere proximity to McDonald’s means people will be obese and diabetic, while living nearer to Whole Foods would make people healthy.
“Physical access, I suspect, is not as important as economic distance,” Drewnowski said. “The issue of economic distance is trickier to handle. Higher minimum wage? Health insurance? What do you do?”

How about changing the American food system as a whole? If food is healthy no matter where you buy it, you’ll be healthy, too.

3 responses to “You are what you eat

  1. Shouldn’t this post be titled, “You are Where You Eat”?

  2. I’m not really familiar with urban American, but the interpretation of this seems to me to have the wrong emphasis. Surely the relative prevalence of grocery stores and fast food restaurants is a result of economic pressures — for whatever reason (economic, social, whatever) there is less demand for healthy food than fast food in these areas. The lack of healthy choices is obviously going to cause health problems, but its also an indicator of underlying forces working against healthy lifestyles. Just dropping more healthy food choices into the system isn’t going to fix it unless other parts of the system are changed too.

  3. This is usually a decision made by the businesses – they do not want to open stores where they perceieve that people are poor (read: Black).
    Dropping healthy food everywhere would solve the problem, because poor people want it as much as anyone, but there is a bigger problem – where would all that healthy food come from? The food production system would have to change in a big way for this to happen.