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The United States has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the world.
That statistic sounds worse when considering the ways companies target unhealthy foods and drinks to Latino and other children of color — all contributing to health inequities and a higher obesity.
This is why civic leaders in Berkeley, Calif., passed legislation to make it the the first U.S. city to ban junk food and candy in grocery checkout aisles. The will will go into effect early next year.
“Placement of unhealthy snacks near a register increases the likelihood that customers will purchase these foods and drinks when willpower is weak at the end of a long shopping trip,” City Council member Kate Harrison said in a press release.
The Ban of Junk Food in Store Checkout Aisles
Although a growing number of obesity prevention policies and actions have been implemented to counteract unhealthy marketing, very few systems are taken by cities and governments.
The Berkeley ban means no more candy, soda, and salty snacks available for impulsive shoppers waiting in line to pay at the register.
Thereby, the ban would prohibit grocery stores bigger than 2,500 square feet from displaying junk food and other unhealthy items in checkout aisles.
Prior to this new law, the Berkeley City Council took measures to curb the obesity epidemic in the country. For example, it was also the first city to implement a soda tax.
Under the “healthy checkout” ordinance, the ban is on the foods with five or more grams of added sugar and 200 milligrams or more of sodium or chewing gum or mints with added sugars and sweeteners.
“This ordinance is another effort to create a healthy food environment that would support families by providing them the ability to avoid high-calorie, low-nutrient food and beverages when they do their grocery and other shopping,” officials said a recent city report on the new legislation
The ban will also apply to 25 retailers in Berkeley, including CVS, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods.
Why is Such Ban Needed?
Research over the past decades has proven again and again that obese kids become obese adults.
For example, Dr. Kim A. Eagle, a cardiologist and director at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center, published “The Relationship between Childhood Obesity, Low Socioeconomic Status, and Race/Ethnicity: Lessons from Massachusetts.”
“The battle to curb childhood obesity is critically tied to understanding its causes and focusing on the modifiable factors that can lead to positive health changes for each and every child,” Eagle said in a 2016 press release.
This makes the battle to curb childhood obesity crucial.
It is equally essential “to understanding its causes and focusing on the modifiable factors that can lead to positive health changes for every child.”
Studies of the Berkeley soda tax, a joint effort of the Public Health Institute and the University of North Carolina covering over 15 million supermarket transactions showed that the Berkeley soda tax is working.
In Berkely, the soda sales have been down by 10%, and water and milk sales have gone up!
Many states are studying the success, and states like Connecticut would be the first state to consider a statewide soda tax if conversations continue.
How Will Such a Ban Impact Latinos?
Obesity also is estimated to increase national healthcare spending by $149 million annually. Unhealthy eating is the leading cause of premature death in the United States.
Data show Latino kids ages 10 to 17 have higher obesity rates (19%) than their white (11.8%) peers. They also have higher rates than the nation (15.3%).
“The findings reveal differences in the inequalities in the physical and social environment in which children are raised,” Eagle said in a 2016 press release. “It illustrates that race and ethnicity in communities may not have a significant connection to obesity status once the community’s income is considered.”
According to a Salud America! research review, poverty, food swamps are prolific in Latino neighborhoods, and fast food outnumbers supermarkets and farmers’ markets, which are primary reasons for high childhood obesity among Latinos.
Many reports suggest that junk food advertised more to Latino, Black kids, and 8 out of 10 food ads seen by Latino children on Spanish-language TV promote fast food, candy, sugary drinks, and snacks.
Thereby, many health experts suggest that we need to take steps to improve the nutritional quality of products that are directed toward and sold to Latinos and communities of color. Advocates need to understand marketing strategies used by the food and beverage industry.
“Targeted marketing is a health equity issue—one that needs a public health response,” Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) Director Lori Dorfman said in a statement. “Soda and fast-food companies have been following the tobacco industry’s lead and using many of the same marketing practices with the explicit goal of increasing junk food consumption among African Americans and Latinxs.”
The BMSG also has a helpful guide on framing junk food marketing as a health equity issue.
What Else Can We do to Improve the Healthy Food Environment?
The Berkeley ban is a first step.
“Cheap, ready-to-eat foods high in salt, saturated fat, and added sugars dominate checkout aisles, where shoppers are more likely to make impulse purchases and where parents struggle with their children over demands to buy treats at the end of a shopping trip,” The Berkeley City Council the ordinance stated.
We also need more public health campaigns to promote healthy food for children of color.
“The disparities in obesity rates among blacks and Hispanics, both young and old, are shocking – we can and must do better,” said Nancy Brown, American Heart Association CEO said in a statement. “Our nation will continue to be in the midst of this public health crisis until we drive transformative change in every community. We have the tools. We just need to employ them.”
“Bodega Makeover’s main goal is to promote healthier options and tell the stories of Latino and/or urban communities that are in food deserts or food swamps. Bodegas are a sense of community. These are grassroots changes – making something out of nothing,” Alex Cuevas, the co-executive producer of Bodega Makeover, told Salud America!
Salud America! has created many new campaigns to encourage its network to take action and share information on childhood obesity among Latinos.