Skip to comments.The Myth of Michelle Obama's "Food Desert"
Posted on 05/02/2013 6:47:47 AM PDT by Kaslin
Science is a wonderful tool for understanding how our world really works. But if the science supporting a given understanding is flawed, or worse, if it is slanted in favor of a politically-favored outcome, it can become the justification for excessively wasteful activities. When science crosses that line, it is transformed from something that is worthy of respect into junk science.
This is the story of Michelle Obama and her fight against the food deserts of America. The story begins on 24 February 2010, when the First Lady of the United States of America used her White House platform to introduce the little-understood concept of the newly-discovered "food deserts" of America to Americans as part of a media blitz:
As part of Lets Move!, the campaign to end childhood obesity, First Lady Michelle Obama is taking on food deserts. These are nutritional wastelands that exist across America in both urban and rural communities where parents and children simply do not have access to a supermarket. Some 23.5 million Americans including 6.5 million children currently live in food deserts. Watch the video below and learn what the First Lady is doing to help families in these areas across the country.
Food deserts sound horrible. Isn't it good that the First Lady is doing something about this awful problem that would appear to be plaguing America's most poor, yet obese citizens, who suffer because they are deprived from having large supermarkets stocked with nutritious foods within walking distance of where they live?
Or is the First Lady relying upon junk science to justify the wasteful expenditure of taxpayer money to benefit her and the President's political cronies? After all, there was already plenty of evidence back in 2010 that indicated that food deserts were more a junk science-fueled political talking point than a real factor that significantly contributed to making poor Americans obese, as the original 2006 study proclaiming the crisis in President Obama's home base of Chicago was funded by LaSalle Bank of Chicago, then the largest business lender in the city, who would directly profit from investments to "remedy" the situation.
Fortunately, respectable science can help provide the answers to these questions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control very recently published a peer-reviewed scientific study of the impact that a lack of nearby access to nutritious foods, such as might be found in one of the First Lady's food deserts, actually has upon the Body Mass Index (BMI) of the Americans who live within such regions. Here are the results and conclusion for their study of 97,678 adults in the state of California (home to 1 out of every 8 Americans):
Food outlets within walking distance (=1.0 mile) were not strongly associated with dietary intake, BMI, or probabilities of a BMI of 25.0 or more or a BMI of 30.0 or more. We found significant associations between fast-food outlets and dietary intake and between supermarkets and BMI and probabilities of a BMI of 25.0 or more and a BMI of 30.0 or more for food environments beyond walking distance (>1.0 mile).
We found no strong evidence that food outlets near homes are associated with dietary intake or BMI. We replicated some associations reported previously but only for areas that are larger than what typically is considered a neighborhood. A likely reason for the null finding is that shopping patterns are weakly related, if at all, to neighborhoods in the United States because of access to motorized transportation.
Economist Jacob Geller reviewed the study's statistical results:
If you look at the statistical tables, theyre pretty striking. Even where there is statistical significance which is the exception to the rule the size of the effect is so tiny, its like practically nothing. For example, on the margin, adding one full-service supermarket within a one-mile radius of your house is associated with an average BMI decrease in your neighborhood of .115. That is a difference of just one pound. (see back-of-the-envelope calculations here)
So there is really no relationship, according to this one recent study of nearly 100,000 Californians, between the distance between your body and a full-service supermarket (or any other kind of food store), and whether or not you are obese. Distance, which is a proxy for access (the idea of a food desert is that the nearest supermarket, which has fresh produce, is distant), is for all practical purposes a non-factor.
We created the following tool so you can see what Michelle Obama's publicity campaign to direct large and/or politically well-connected retailers to spend millions of dollars to open or expand stores in the "disadvantaged" regions identified by the U.S. government as supposed food deserts would have in terms of your own weight. And the cool part is that the math is such that we can figure out just how much that would be for you from just your height!
|Your Height [inches]||
|Your "Food Desert" Weight|
|Amount in Weight [pounds]||
If you're accessing this tool on a site that republishes our RSS news feed, please click here to access the original, functioning version of this tool!
Our tool indicates how much of your weight would be affected by whether you lived within a food desert. If you live in an area identified by the U.S. government as a food desert, it indicates how much more you would weigh, and if you were to move out of that area, it is how much you would lose. To put your result into proper context, the weight of an adult American normally fluctuates by up to 5 pounds during the course of a single day.
Did we mention large and/or politically well-connected retailers are involved? That's actually how we know that the whole food desert publicity campaign is really about crony capitalism more than it is about dealing with the health problems of obesity. Because in truth, if it were a real problem that could be fixed by opening new store locations, it would be a lot easier, cheaper and faster for small "Mom and Pop"-style grocery businesses to fit themselves into the already existing and available retail spaces within such deprived communities as the supposed food deserts of America.
But since the whole food desert concept would seem to be based on junk science rather than the more respectable kind, it is perhaps too much to ask for the solutions advanced by the politicians taking charge of the crisis to solve a legitimate problem.
Carras, Michelle Colder. Normal Body Weight Fluctuation. LiveStrong.com. http://www.livestrong.com/article/29567-normal-body-weight-fluctuation/. 7 May 2011.
Croft, Cammie. Food desert? Whats a food desert? White House Blog. http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/02/24/taking-food-deserts. 24 February 2010.
Gallagher, Mari. Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Chicago. http://www.marigallagher.com/site_media/dynamic/project_files/Chicago_Food_Desert_Report.pdf. Mari Gallagher Research & Consulting Group, sponsored by LaSalle Bank. 2006.
Geller, Jacob A. The Problem of "Food Deserts" Is Not All About Access. http://jacobageller.com/2013/04/the-problem-of-food-deserts-is-not-all-about-access/. 3 April 2013.
Hattori A, An R, Sturm R. Neighborhood Food Outlets, Diet, and Obesity Among California Adults, 2007 and 2009. Prev Chronic Dis 2013;10:120123. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd10.120123. 14 March 2013.
McWhorter, John. The Root: The Myth of the Food Desert. National Public Radio. http://www.npr.org/2010/12/15/132076786/the-root-the-myth-of-the-food-desert. 15 December 2010.
Mooney, Alexander. First Lady Takes on 'Food Deserts'. CNN: The 1600 Report. http://whitehouse.blogs.cnn.com/2011/07/20/first-lady-takes-on-%E2%80%98food-deserts%E2%80%99/. 20 July 2011.
Political Calculations. How To Detect Junk Science. http://politicalcalculations.blogspot.com/2009/08/how-to-detect-junk-science.html. 19 August 2009.
White House. Transcript of President Obama's Remarks at 2013 White House Science Fair. White House Photos and Video. http://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2013/04/22/president-obama-tours-2013-white-house-science-fair#transcript. 22 April 2013.
Wright, Ann. Interactive Web Tool Maps Food Deserts, Provides Key Data. http://www.letsmove.gov/blog/2011/05/03/interactive-web-tool-maps-food-deserts-provides-key-data. LetsMove.gov. 3 May 2011.
Michelle usually has food desserts.
Counting supermarkets in urban areas is not and never will be science, junk science or otherwise.
Just as polling is not science. Social ‘science’ is not science.
BMI is a very misleading measure in the first place.
If you’re in an area which cannot adequately sustain life (ie.: yours), MOVE.
Yes, it may be hard (much less so than whiners contend), but the alternative is prolonged suffering and death. Demanding others bring you good food is insane: they’re not for a reason, take the hint already and MOVE.
Wonder what the diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity rates in these food desert areas happen to be.........
“No maam. We don’t carry pig intestines. Sorry, we don’t carry mullet either. “.
Sorry, Southern joke. Every time we got a new Yankee employee, they would ask about both.
It absolutely offends me that this tub of lard would dare to criticize other people.
Those areas are food deserts due to shoppers who create their own personal 100% off sales.
The USDA had for awhile an inter-active map that showed where the “food deserts” were. I lived in one yet there was a grocery store less than a mile away. They are basing their claims that an area is a food desert on household incomes rather than access to food so they can divvy up the loot to the poor. It’s just another commie wealth transfer.
BTW, we do have a Aldi store about 1.15 miles from my house. I have absolutely no use for that store
Look for this particular Aldis (and any nearby retailers) to quickly go out of business due to theft.
I go to Aldi’s occasionally. At least with my local store, you can do very well there, but can’t plan a weekly grocery trip around them because you never know what you’re going to get. Merch is different every time.
"Food Deserts? I thought you said Food Desserts."
Where are the First Wookie's references?
Michelle---HA, HA - Loser!
I’ve recently been self-diagnosed with a serious metabolic disorder that has put me on a severely restricted diet - I can only eat food.
And I’ve been surprised at how much junk in the local grocery stores isn’t actually food. The shelves are full of edible food-like substances.
But I live in the inner city, and even in the gritty neighborhood grocery store I can find fresh meat, dairy, eggs, produce, and whole grains. That most of what most people eat is processed crap isn’t because whole foods aren’t available. It’s because eating crap is cheap and convenient.
If you’re eating whole foods, you have three choices. Either you pay a lot more, or you work a lot more, or you plan a lot more.
Me, I plan. Half-an-hour’s work, and 10 hours of waiting on my six-quart slow-cooker, and I have a dozen individual serving freezer containers of pot roast.
But that works for me because 1, my schedule is stable, and 2, I have freezer space. It’s hard to prepare meals a week in advance, when you don’t know whose couch you’re going to be sleeping on, tomorrow.
Where I live, federal grant money is being used to pay gas stations to carry fruit.
I don’t know why they would choose Aldi. Personally I prefer Save-a-lot for cheap staples.
No sausage casings? No chitlin’s? No smoked mullet dip?
Sounds like a food desert to me!
I just brought up a map of “food deserts”.
Many of these places are “deserts” because they ARE deserts! Few people live there! On some it is very rural areas and people have been traveling long distances for groceries for the last 100 years or longer.
In other cases a “food desert” may be right next to a county that has plenty of food.
Example: Southern Deleware County OK is a “food desert”. Yet is is right next to Benton County AR which has large numbers of grocery stores right next to the State line.
Union County NM is a desert. Few people live there and Clayton, does have a large grocery store. Many people there choose to shop at Dalhart, TX. The panhandle of Oklahoma is the same way. Dry, High Plains with few people living there.
San Juan County NM. The West side is a food desert because it is Navajo Reservation! Yet Farmington, Aztec, and Bloomfield NM have large numbers of grocery stores.
The “Food Deserts” are a myth.
Yup. If the major health problem in the area is obesity, the area is not a food desert. If calorie acquisition is not a problem but nutrition is, the infrastructure is in place but the demand - to wit CHOICE - is a self-imposed problem.
Well, hold on there. It can be. Remember, "science" is a set of methods, not a subject matter. If you are willing to follow the rules you can study anything scientifically.
Not really. Is Eisenhower or Dewey going to win the Presidency according to ‘scientific’ polling?
You cannot study any number of things utilizing the scientific method. The fall of Rome is not reproducible or measurable or predictable. It happened once due to various causes that cannot be reinancted holding everything else constant while changing one variable. There is no control group.
You can study literature as rigorously as you wish - it will not be science. Science is not just rigor. It is a method for gaining reliable information utilizing experimentation and observation to develop useful and predictive models about the natural world.
I can understand why things would WANT to be science, to don the mantle of respectability that science has earned - but quite simply no matter how rigorously they study a nonscientific subject - it will not be science.
“Groo never retreats! But he does run away. RUN AWAY!!!”
Obesity is caused by consuming a bunch more calories than you burn, the nutritional value of the food is not very important in that sense. Tell little Timmy to skip the second helping of dinner and ride his bike for half an hour instead of playing X-box and he won’t be so fat.