New regulations are being discussed in South Los Angeles to limited the development of new c-stores due to the link between snack foods (found in abundance at c-stores) and obesity in poor communities, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The proposed regulations expand on last year’s restrictions on new fast-food restaurants in a 32-square-mile area of South Los Angeles. About 500,000 residents live in the area.
A study by Santa Monica think tank Rand Corp. published in the research journal Health Affairs last week said calories from snacks were most likely a cause of the high obesity rates in South Los Angeles, which was also found to have a higher concentration of convenience stores that sell high calorie snacks than other sections of the city.
In a separate study researchers examined the shopping patterns of school kids in urban Philadelphia and discovered more than half the 800 students they surveyed shopped at a corner store at least once a day, five times a week and almost a third visited a store both before and after school, purchasing about 365 calories of snack food. The study will appear in the November edition of Pediatrics, a medical journal.
As politicians look to cure obesity rates they are examining ways to restrict public purchasing habits.
“We need to look at a moratorium on these convenience stores,” said Lark Galloway-Gilliam, executive director of Community Health Councils Inc., a nonprofit health policy and education organization in South Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles City Council soon will consider a proposal that aims to limit the density of c-stores in South Los Angeles, said Councilwoman Jan Perry, a proponent of regulations adopted last year establishing a moratorium on new openings of fast-food restaurants whose 9th District includes much of South Los Angeles.
The proposal, part of the developing Southeast Los Angeles Community Plan, would prohibit small neighborhood markets from being closer than one-half mile from one another unless they sold fresh fruit and vegetables.
The half-mile separation represents a restrictive requirement in the council district, which is only 14 square miles, Perry told the Los Angeles Times. The proposal would only affect new development and would go to the City Council next year, she added.
Roland Sturm, who coauthored the Rand study with colleague Deborah Cohen, doubts the restriction on c-stores will help obesity rates.
According to the Rand study, almost 26% of the residents of South Los Angeles are considered obese compared with about 18% of the residents of Los Angeles County who live in higher-income neighborhoods.
“Clearly these stores are a source of excess calories, especially in children,” Sturm said, “But people need access to food that is reachable.”
His research found that residents of South Los Angeles are more likely to walk or use public transportation to shop for food than Angelenos who live in other sections of the city, and that limits their choices.
“I would be hesitant to prohibit the development of these stores,” Sturm said, because residents of the community don’t have other easy-to-reach places to purchase food to be consumed at home.
The convenience store industry also is against more regulation.
“Convenience stores, whether they be a 7-Eleven or other, provide needed products and services to communities, especially lower income or areas with high crime,” said Margaret Chabris, spokeswoman for Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc., which has 50 stores within the Los Angeles city limits.
“Sometimes larger supermarkets won’t venture into the tougher neighborhoods, but mom-and-pop stores, locally run convenience stores, will,” she said. “They provide food, groceries, paper products, money orders, ATM services and over-the-counter medicine around the clock. They can also be a safe haven when someone on the street or in the neighborhood is in trouble and needs a place to go or make a phone call.”
South Los Angeles has 58 small food stores per 100,000 residents, according to the Rand study and only three supermarkets. West Los Angeles has only 14 c-store, but 10 supermarkets.
In the Philadelphia study, Temple University professor Kelley Borradaile and colleagues from the Food Trust, a Philadelphia nonprofit that works to improve access to affordable, healthful food, surveyed students in grades four to six outside 24 corner stores in an economically poor part of that city.
“There needs to be more education in the schools as to what is a healthy snack,” Borradaile told the Los Angeles Times. “These kids need to learn how to walk through the corner store and make good decisions.”