Putting Health Food in Food Deserts Doesn’t Change People's Buying Habits

A team of researchers from Drexel supplied two East Los Angeles corner stores with improved shelving, training, and social media marketing, as well as more fruits and vegetables. Sadly, they did not get the results they hoped for.

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May 22 2016, 1:00pm

Bad eating habits in low-income areas are usually blamed on a lack of access to healthy food. Mobile grocery stores and tech solutions aside, the bottom line is that there is no economic incentive for grocery stores—if there even are any in these areas—or convenience stores to provide good food to nearby residents.

While it might be tempting to assume that people in poor neighborhoods would buy healthy food if it was made available at corner stores, the sad reality is that they probably won't, at least according to new research from Drexel University.

READ MORE: How Technology Could Solve the Food Desert Crisis

In a recent study, a team of researchers from Drexel's School of Public Health supplied two East Los Angeles corner stores with improved shelving, training, and social media marketing, as well as more fruits and vegetables. But sadly, they did not get the results they hoped for. Despite being able to provide resources which would otherwise be unavailable to low-income areas, very little changed in the stores surveyed by the team.

"Given the financial and technical support that we were able to provide to stores, it is quite disheartening that we saw no real changes in food purchasing or diet at the community level," lead author Alex Ortega said in a press release. "This does not bode well for interventions that are able to provide fewer resources to stores."

The team's multi-level intervention appeared to have no significant impact on whether residents viewed healthy food as too expensive, nor did it lead to an increase in fruit and vegetable purchases. Faced with these results, Ortega surmised that the problem of food deserts (or swamps, as they were referred to here), runs far deeper than what's on shelves.

"It is always disappointing when an intervention that makes intuitive sense does not have the desired effects," Ortega concluded. "But the evaluation results are useful for policy and program planning because we want to be able to allocate public health dollars as effectively and efficiently as possible."

But if you look at the behavior of rich kids, it's safe to say that America's love of bad food transcends economic boundaries.

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