Zoning laws limit burger locations
A new study that indicates that proximity to fast food restaurants has an effect on residents’ health could support efforts by some city and state officials to pass laws to keep such establishments away from neighborhoods and schools. However, a spokesperson for the Washington-based National League of Cities (NLC) says just implementing more restrictions on where fast food restaurants locate may not be enough.
A 2009 study conducted in Nueces County, Texas, by the University of Michigan School of Public Health (UMSPH) found that residents in neighborhoods with a higher number of fast food eateries had a 13 percent higher risk for strokes caused by clogged blood vessels. The UMSPH study supports the recently renewed yearlong moratorium on new, stand-alone fast food restaurants in a 32-square-mile area in South Los Angeles spearheaded by Los Angeles Councilmember Jan Perry. The goal, Perry says, was not to abolish fast food restaurants, but to court more grocery stores and full service restaurants to the area.
Perry says a city planning department report found that the South Los Angeles community suffered from an over-proliferation of fast food establishments, and Los Angeles County Public Health Department statistics indicate the area has higher obesity and diabetes rates than other areas of the city. The dearth of full service restaurants and grocery stores makes it difficult for people there to easily access fresh foods, Perry says. “[The UMSPH] study supports the notion that, with limited access to fresh food, there could be detrimental effects to the health of a community,” she says.
However, the Washington-based National Restaurant Association (NRA) says most fast food restaurants provide healthy menu options and restricting their location will not improve public health. “A better way is for lawmakers to support education and initiatives focused on making smart food choices and maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” says NRA Media Relations Director Annika Stensson.
NLC Media Relations Manager Greg Minchak says zoning against fast food is not necessarily the complete answer to fighting obesity. “Zoning is … a tool for combating obesity,” he says. “But, it is just that — a tool. We need to begin to reshape how we relate to food and nutrition.”
Fast food restaurants located close to schools is a bad combination, according to the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity (NPLAN), a project of the non-profit Oakland, Calif.-based Public Health Law and Policy. NPLAN has created a model ordinance that can be used to prohibit fast food restaurants from locating within a designated distance from schools, parks and playgrounds. For more information, go to www.nplanonline.org.
Annie Gentile is a Vernon, Conn.-based freelance writer.