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YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT: Fresh Food Versus Obesity In Philadelphia
June 11, 2012
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Philadelphia has the highest obesity rate in the U.S. according to the Washington Post, and the city's government is aiming to do something about it: namely, spending $900,000 to turn corner stores into greengrocers with fresh vegetables and fruit. The aim of 'Get Healthy Philly' is to combat "food deserts", impoverished areas with no access to fresh food, and encourage people living in those areas to eat better.

One possible problem with this approach? "Food deserts" may not exist. Some recent research has found that on average, poorer neighbourhoods in the States actually have nearly twice as many supermarkets and large-scale grocers per square mile as wealthier ones. And according to a study of children and teenagers by Roland Sturm, a senior economist with the global think-tank the RAND Corporation, there is no relationship between the type of food that a person eats, what they weigh, and the type of food available within a mile and a half of their homes.

Still, the Philadelphia experiment will let researchers and policymakers test the theory of food deserts and see firsthand how effective it is to introduce fresh food options. It's the biggest initiative of its kind, and it also incorporates a study component to see what effect, if any, the new fresh produce is having. The city has recruited 632 corner stores to take part in the study, and supplied 122 of the stores with new refrigeration units so they can stock fresh goods. It is also working with schools to improve nutrition and helping neighbourhoods launch farmers markets.

Last year in Philadelphia, researchers stopped 7,000 shoppers at corner stores and checked their bags to see what they bought. Now that the fresh food is in place, they will stop 7,000 more and see how their purchasing habits are different from the original group. The study will be released in "about a year", according to Gary Foster, the director of Temple University's Center for Obesity Research, and he says it will be "the largest study by a long shot".

In Canada, obesity rates are lower than in the U.S.: according to the last major government survey, approximately one in four Canadian adults are obese, as opposed to one in three in the U.S. But Canadian obesity rates are definitely on the rise; they doubled between 1981 and 2007/09.

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