On April 18, 2012, The New York Times published an article raising questions about the link between food deserts and obesity. Citing two new studies (more info. here and here), the article questions the effectiveness of fighting obesity by improving access to healthy foods and challenges the idea that poor neighborhoods are often food deserts. See the full article here: Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity.
Mari Gallagher’s Research and Consulting Group, which has been researching healthy food access issues for years and helped popularize the term “food desert,” issued a response to the article the same day. Gallagher argues the NYT article was misleading in many ways, including that it “fails to note the large number of studies that have identified food deserts and the subsequent large number of studies that have found a link between living in underserved areas and poor health outcomes. The article fails to note the shortcomings of the two studies it touts, even though the authors of those studies themselves go to great lengths to describe those deficiencies.”
Gallagher argues the article also misrepresents the work of healthy food advocates by giving the impression that improving access to healthy foods is the only solution being pursued: “To my knowledge, no one of any credibility has ever suggested that access was the entire solution or that anything involving the complicated relationship between diet and health is simple.”
Gallagher continues: “Our issue is not with the two new studies; we thank the authors for their valuable contributions. Our issue is the reporter’s sloppy job of getting the facts straight. Some of this could have been settled by some simple Google searches. She muddied the water at best, misled at worst, and left the inaccurate impression that food access and the concept of food deserts does not matter.”
Read the full response here: Response to New York Times Article on Food Deserts & Obesity.
Read another response to the NYT article, this one by Mike Curtin, CEO of D.C. Central Kitchen. “No Simple Answers for a Complex Problem,” Huffington Post, April 23, 2012. Curtin discusses his experience working to improve food access for people living in underserved neighborhoods in Washington D.C. One of D.C. Central Kitchen’s strategies is to “distribute fresh fruits and vegetables to corner stores that would not otherwise sell them for reasons of cost and capacity.”
After discussing research from D.C. about food deserts, poor people, and obesity, he goes on: “Food access is a complicated issue. It involves distribution, storage, education, employment, economics, cultural norms, and policies designed and implemented at local, state, and federal levels. While this web is as vexing as it is complex, it will not become less troublesome, tragic, or costly if we do nothing. “