Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Designed For Disease:
New Study Links Retail Development To Disease

--body + mind + spirit--

A new groundbreaking study "Designed for Disease: The Link Between Local Food Environments and Obesity and Diabetes" was recently released, proving a direct correlation between where you live and your risk for obesity or diabetes. The study, a collaboration between the California Center for Public Health and Advocacy (CCPHA), PolicyLink, and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, examined the correlation between 40,000 Californians and the mix of retail food outlets and retail outlets near their home. The key finding was that individuals who resided in areas filled with fast food stores but few grocery or produce outlets had a significantly higher risk of suffering from Obesity and Diabetes.

The study also created a "Retail Food Environment Index," (RFEI) which is determined by dividing the total number of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores by the total number of grocery stores (including supermarkets) and produce vendors (including produce stores and farmers’ markets) within a given radius around the person’s home address. According to a 2007 study, "Searching for Healthy Food," California has more than four times as many fast-food restaurants and convenience stores as supermarkets and produce vendors. This new study elaborated on the 2007 study, by linking health to environments;

"The study found a strong and direct relationship between the RFEI of the area in which someone lives and their likelihood of being obese or having diabetes. California adults living in high RFEI areas (RFEI of 5.0 or higher) had a 20 percent higher prevalence of obesity and a 23 percent higher prevalence of diabetes than their counterparts living in RFEI areas of 3.0 or lower. A higher RFEI was associated with a higher prevalence of obesity and diabetes for people living in lower-income and higher-income communities alike. The highest rates of obesity and diabetes are among people who live in lower-income and higher RFEI communities. This relationship between RFEI and obesity and diabetes rates was found to hold true regardless of household income, race/ethnicity, age, gender, or physical activity levels of respondents."

The researchers of the study set forth several recommendations, including;

  • Increase in access to healthy foods by providing incentives for retail development and improvement
  • Promote retail innovations, including smaller scale markets selling healthy foods
  • Implement zoning designed to limit fast food restaurants in overbudened communities
  • Require menu labeling

This study also points to another interesting and noteworthy consumer dynamic. American's are simply so used to having what they want and need available at their finger tips, that going to the corner store becomes the only solution even if what it offers, is nothing good for your or your family. The price of inconvenience is perceived higher than the value of what you actually attain. Clearly incentives and policies need to be put in place to encourage healthy food business' and discourage the prevalence of fast food in certain regions, but also one can not overlook the importance of personal accountability.

This "need for speed" in the consumer experience - weather through drive through eateries, microwaveable dinners, or popping instant fix medicines (even when not entirely necessary) is all part of the same dynamic...the quick fix of modern life. We have gotten away from accepting the idea of investing time in process in common every day experiences. Even buying, cooking and eating food has become a high speed game.

Beyond just education in what is healthy eating, we need an education in healthy living - and this will have to involve slowing down, in many parts of our life. We will have to redesign our value system between how fast we get something...and what we are actually getting. In all the rush and need for convenience what are we ultimately buying, and what time are we ultimately giving away ? Perhaps our environments are not only "designed for disease" (as the study points out)...perhaps in some cases - so are our ideas.

(Source: California Center for Public Health Advocacy)

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