To help curb the expanding waist lines of her constituents, south Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry has proposed a two-year moratorium on new fast food restaurants in her district.
If enacted in Los Angeles, or any other American city for that matter, would the plan work?
Don’t count on it, says the president of the American Dietetic Association.
“It’s an interesting idea, but I’m not sure it would make much of a difference,” says Connie Diekman, R.D., director of University nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis and president of the American Dietetic Association.
“People always want to make a change in healthy eating by making mandates or requirements,” she says. “Logically, it seems like that’s the way to do it. But what we really need to be focusing on is changing people’s behaviors, which just isn’t that simple.”
Instead of banning new restaurants, suggests Diekman, community leaders should be looking for other ways to make cities healthier.
“Moratoriums, laws and mandates aren’t the solution to the obesity problem,” she said. “We need to teach people about proper nutrition, encourage more grocery stores to provide healthier food choices in all neighborhoods and find ways to make physical activity accessible.”
In order to become healthier, “people need to establish lifestyle patterns for health.”
To encourage lasting change in an area where fast food restaurants are so prevalent, community leaders need to work with restaurant owners to include healthy eating choices. They also need to look for ways to add parks or walking trails so people can more easily incorporate physical activity into their daily lives.
“While the concept of not opening any more restaurants does acknowledge that there is a problem, a better approach would be to talk to the current restaurants about providing more healthy options,” Diekman says.
“The most powerful changes are the ones that involve the community as a whole because everyone has bought into those changes,” she says. “If this proposal at least gets the community talking, then it might be a real positive step in the right direction.”
Editor’s note: Diekman is available for live or taped interviews using Washington University’s free VYVX or ISDN lines. Contact Neil Schoenherr at email@example.com, (314) 935-5235 or Connie Diekman at firstname.lastname@example.org, (314) 935-4439.