Report: ‘Food Swamps’ Are Making Latinos Obese

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Food deserts aren’t the only thing that drag down health in many Latino neighborhoods.

“Food swamps” may be a bigger worry.

While a food desert is an area more than 2 miles or 15 minutes away from a grocery store, a food swamp includes the food desert AND a high-density of stores and restaurants that offer high-calorie fast food and junk food, relative to healthier food options.

Food swamps also are highly linked to obesity, according to new data from the UCONN Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, The Atlantic reports.

“Food swamps had about four unhealthy options for each healthy one,” according to The Atlantic. “The relationship between food swamps and obesity was especially strong in areas where people lacked both their own cars and access to public transportation.”

What This Means for Latinos

Fast food and corner stores outnumber supermarkets and farmers’ markets in many Latino neighborhoods, according to a Salud America! Research Review.

McDonald's via istock

Meanwhile, Latinos have higher obesity rates than whites.

These two trends correlate, the study seems to indicate.

“[Our study supports] the position that food swamps are a separate phenomenon from food deserts, and may play an even larger role than food deserts on county-level obesity rates,” according to study leaders.

Transforming Food Swamps

Study leaders suggest food-swamp counties introduce zoning restrictions to reduce the number of fast-food establishments and increase the number of grocery stores.

Furthermore, the study concluded that additional research is needed to:

  • Identify and refine the types of zoning policies recommended (e.g., restrictions on locations of fast food restaurants, closing times, distances from public places)
  • Define terms such as “fast-food restaurant”, “formula restaurant”, and “carryout” to avoid enforcement challenges
  • Identify priority locations that meet the definition of food deserts or food swamps for zoning interventions
  • Study how to mobilize community members and leaders.

“If there’s anything the food-desert research shows, it’s that there’s no one silver bullet to fight health disparities. The food environment can contribute to poor health, as the grease-laden food swamps show, but changing it alone won’t immediately reverse a community’s health problems” according to The Atlantic.

“By simultaneously increasing availability of healthy food and decreasing availability of unhealthy food, policymakers can maximize the potential of the food environment to reduce obesity and promote health equity.”

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