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Do food deserts matter?

(article, Culinate staff)

A recent article in the New York Times challenged the conventional wisdom about food deserts. Contrary to popular belief, reporter Gina Kolata wrote, two new studies show that greater access to fresh food doesn't correlate with a drop in obesity. 

Mari Gallagher, the food-policy researcher who popularized the term "food desert" to describe a neighborhood or region lacking in purveyors of whole foods, promptly criticized Kolata's reporting, writing, "Ms. Kolata’s article 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." 

Meanwhile, Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein took a slightly longer view, pointing out two earlier British studies that failed to find any health improvements in food deserts even after supermarkets opened in them. 

He also cited the work of researcher Adam Drewnowski, noting that a more accurate prediction of obesity occurrence can be made simply by looking at income level, not food access. The less you make, in other words, the more you gain.