After a year, fast food ban has 'virtually no impact' on health in South LA, group says

Jan. 6, 2012, 2:38 p.m.

(Hayley Fox/KPCC) The fast food ban doesn't do anything to address previously built fast food restaurants.

It's been a little more than a year since permanent fast food regulations went into effect in South Los Angeles. These new guidelines outlaw the building of stand-alone fast food restaurants within a half mile of one another. This essentially bans new fast food eateries in the area.

But has it worked?

Breanna Morrison, a CHC policy analyst, said the new law does little to impact the present, and has had 'virtually no impact' on the area. It doesn't address the problem of existing fast food chains and allows new chains to open in shopping centers and strip malls, or to take over other restaurants if they go out of business.

"It's hard to assess in this economy what the impact has been," said Lark Galloway-Gilliam, executive director of the Community Health Councils (CHC).

In fact, keeping out new fast food restaurants will most likely increase the profits of those that are already open, said Yang Lu, a research professor at USC.

Some residents say these restrictions limit their dining choices, but policy analyst Morrison said this is not the case.

"We actually just want to encourage them to have more choices," Morrison said.

The CHC is currently developing a set of guidelines to help shape these choices by defining what "healthy" fast-food actually is and trying to attract more healthy restaurants to the area. They plan on publishing an extensive report later this month what will examine restaurants in South L.A. and recommend policy changes to help create an overall healthier environment.

Based on their proposed requirements, chains including Subway and Chipotle would be classified as healthy, because at least half their menu complies with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, they offer free water, and have a low fat or fat free salad dressing to accompany any salad.

Lu said offering healthier food options is a good start on the road to decreasing obesity rates, but public education and better menu labeling may also help.

"Even when people know whats good for them sometimes some comfort food, some fast food is so addictive," Lu said.

Federal laws state any chain restaurant with 20 or more stores must include calorie labeling on their menus. This means places like Burger King and Taco Bell are required to show this information to help customers make healthier choices.

But many "fast food" restaurants in South L.A. are mom-and-pop stores, Morrison said, and this law doesn't apply to them. Even when places do share dietary information, it's not always fully understood by consumers, so the CHC is developing more accessible ways to identify good food choices, like a recognizable symbol or icon.

The fast food ban came on the heels of a temporary moratorium on the construction of fast food chains in South L.A., spearheaded by councilmembers Jan Perry and Bernard C. Parks in 2008. When that bill expired, a new, permanent solution was put in place.

"With the alarmingly high rates of diet-related problems such as obesity and diabetes in South Los Angeles, these restrictions are a fair, common-sense way of providing South L.A. residents additional food choices that exist in West LA and other parts of the city," Perry said when the permanent regulations were passed.

The new guidelines went into effect in 2010 and were designed to preserve available land for other uses, including grocery stores and full-service restaurants, according to a statement from Perry's office.

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