Which is why, back in 2008, Los Angeles enacted a ban that prevented new fast-food eateries from opening in South L.A., a low-income area suffering from above-average rates of obesity. Before the law went into play, 63 percent of those living in South L.A. were overweight or obese compared to 57 percent of residents living in other parts of the city. And now? Fast food consumption—and obesity—has increased by 12 percent while rates on other neighborhoods have remained consistent.
While the politicians behind the ban never felt it would rectify the obesity crisis overnight, their plan appears to have backfired! When you dig into the details of the ordinance, it’s clear to see why. For starters, the ban only prevented new stand-alone fast-food restaurants from opening. No eateries currently operating were forced to close, and new fast-food restaurants and convenience stores were still permitted to open in malls. In fact, between 2008 and 2012, 17 new eateries opened in strip shopping centers and food courts—almost half of which were convenience stores that sell cheap, sugary drinks and junk food. Not to mention, access to healthy food in South L.A. is still sparse.
While the ban may have been enacted with good intentions, there’s still much work to be done in South Los Angeles. Simply banning new drive-thrus from opening is clearly not the answer, but we hope this situation will help public health officials develop more effective interventions in the future.