Childhood Obesity and Food Desert Backlash, Part 5

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Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News looked at some of the pros and cons of the “food desert” doctrine, one of the bases of the Let’s Move! program sponsored by presidential wife Michelle Obama. Her detractors deny the existence of food deserts. But many people feel that the overwhelming presence of junk food in economically deprived neighborhoods is a genuine problem.

This is the same reasoning that takes junk food out of school vending machines. If the temptation is removed, and a nourishing alternative is present, maybe it could help to keep some kids from becoming pathologically dependent on hyperpalatable foods. (Then there are food trucks, black markets, etc.) Of course, banning certain pseudo-foods from schools, whether voluntarily or by law, is not the whole picture. Schools still have to deal with such nuisances as food trucks lurking around the edges of the school property, and black markets amongst the students, and so on.

Regarding food deserts, an article by Gina Kolata turned out to be a gold mine of public opinion because of the many reader responses it stimulated. A constant theme is the economic reality, as “Linda” mentions:

You can put all the Farmer’s Markets, urban gardens and grocery stores you want in poor neighborhoods, but until the COST of fresh fruits and veggies is less than the $1 Value Meal at a fast food joint — you won’t put a dent in obesity. It’s the economy stupid. Most Kids will still pick 3 cheeseburgers over a $3 pint of strawberries.

Another thing someone brought up is how much food is potentially wasted when a person can only shop once a week. Fresh produce just doesn’t last very long, and people end up throwing out vegetables that would have been perfectly good, if only they could have gotten around to cooking and eating them.

We are told that fresh fruit makes a healthful snack or element of a meal. The problem is, fruit goes from boughten to rotten without ever getting ripe. Only the most exclusive and expensive shops can deal in truly appealing fruit. In fact, it is a general rule of nutrition that just about anything worth eating goes bad quickly. In general, the longer the shelf life, the more you might as well eat the packaging material instead.

Anyway, the fruit found in the average supermarket by the average person has been picked green and had everything done to it from genetic modification to wax coating, to make it uniform in size and durable enough to withstand transportation from grower to retailer. Try getting a bag of fruit home while managing three kids and a baby, waiting around on a crowded corner, and transferring from bus to bus. With any luck, you can use it to make fruit smoothies that night — if you have a blender — and get the kids to drink it by adding sugar to cover up the fact that unripe fruit, already bruised halfway to mush, doesn’t have any flavor.

One respondent clearly misunderstood the situation:

I work with low income individuals in a rather large community for North Dakota and a majority of them do not have the knowledge about what foods to buy so you see them drinking sodas, eating junk food for every meal and wondering why their children are overly heavy. I think that the main focus needs to be on educating not only the children but the families in these food deserts.

This is an argument that Dr. Pretlow’s research absolutely refutes. Time after time, the young people who share their stories with the Weigh2Rock website have asserted that education is not the answer. They know what they’re supposed to eat and what they’re supposed to avoid, and it doesn’t help. A large number of them admits to being addicted to their problem foods. What they need to know is how to get unhooked.

One of the New York Times readers voiced nostalgia for the old days, when mobile vendors would bring fresh produce to neighborhoods. How sick is it, that the ice cream truck still survives in some places, while the vegetable peddler has pretty much become extinct? A reader in Budapest added:

If there were more little grocery stores near where people live, stores with fresh produce, maybe people could shop on a daily basis, like they do in Europe. You think of what you want for dinner on your way home, pick up the groceries for that meal, and cook it when you get home.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity,” The New York Times, 04/18/12
Image by vis-a-v, used under its Creative Commons license.

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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