The $500 million anti-obesity campaign spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama is being called a failure, in a new study that suggests the 3-year initiative is simply not working, the National Journal
According to a report
published in the February issue of Health Affairs
, the Healthy Food Financing Initiative — which funds stores in deprived neighborhoods that will stock fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables — has not led to improvements in residents' diets or overall health.
To reach their conclusions, researchers studied two comparable neighborhoods in Philadelphia, a city at the center of the fight against so-called "food deserts"— produce-poor areas where residents find it difficult to find healthy foods.
When a new grocery store opened in one Philadelphia food desert, 26.7 percent of residents made it their main grocery store and 51.4 percent used it for any food shopping, the report found. But among those supermarket consumers, the researchers found no significant improvement in BMI, fruit and vegetable intake, although there was a boost in perception about the accessibility to fruits and vegetables.
The researchers also compared the Philadelphia neighborhood to a similar community three miles away, to avoid any crossover effect from the opening of the new store. They polled the two communities before and after the store opened to see the effect of the change.
The report was authored by a team of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Penn State University's departments of sociology, anthropology, and demography. The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences with support from the Population Research Institute.
If additional studies on the program confirm the findings, the researchers said policymakers should rethink the Healthy Food Financing Initiative if they want to promote healthier eating and healthier citizens.
An estimated 23.5 million Americans live in a food desert, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For many, fast food and unhealthy meal choices are primary staples of the diet. Communities with less access to healthy foods are at an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.