retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Chicago Tribune reports that Mari Gallagher, the food policy researcher who coined the term “food desert,” is rebutting a story that ran in the New York Times last week saying that new studies throw doubt on the contention by many policy makers and health advocates that so-called “urban deserts” are “bereft of fresh fruits and vegetables.”

According to the story, two new studies say that “such neighborhoods not only have more fast food restaurants and convenience stores than more affluent ones, but more grocery stores, supermarkets and full-service restaurants, too. And there is no relationship between the type of food being sold in a neighborhood and obesity among its children and adolescents.”

According to the Tribune, “Gallagher's main criticism of the story was that it started with a false premise: that anyone has promoted food access improvements as a silver bullet for the obesity epidemic.”

“We have stressed throughout the course of our work that plopping down a grocery store does not mean that these problems are instantly solved,Gallagher wrote on her blog. "Yet (the Times) unfairly suggests that community leaders, policy makers, Mrs. Obama, and so many others want to 'combat the obesity epidemic simply by improving access to healthy foods.' To my knowledge, no one of any credibility has ever suggested that access was the entire solution or that anything involving the complicated relationship between diet and health is simple."

In addition, Gallagher “further noted problems with comparing store proximity in suburbs--where most people travel by car--and low-income urban areas, where many rely on walking or public transportation.”

The Times reporter on the story, Gina Kolata, responded that she was simply referencing existing studies and that Gallagher’s issue was with them and not her.
KC's View:
I said last week that I was gobsmacked by the Timespiece and the research on which it was based, and so I’m not surprised by Gallagher’s response. I also agree with her points about the connection between food deserts and obesity.

It is fair to suggest that maybe the Times did not cast a critical enough eye on the research. Some of the assertions simply did not make sense.