Is Philly’s Healthy Food Movement Failing?

Arrival of new grocery stores doesn't change neighborhood health.

The Washington Post reports on efforts to eradicate “food deserts” where healthy food is difficult to obtain:

Philadelphia has, arguably, been the epicenter of that movement. Since the late 2000s, the city has invested millions in building new grocery stores and adding healthy food options to corner stores in lower-income areas of the city. Hundreds of stores have gotten on board with the movement, with corner store owners selling apples and oranges alongside their more-standard chips and candy. The city has used funds from Obamacare’s Prevention and Public Health Fund to further bolster these types of programs.

 But while Philadelphia residents are noticing the new grocery options, they’re not actually eating any healthier, according to a new study in the journal Health AffairsThe paper is important because it’s one of a small handful of academic studies that looks at what happens to eating habits before and after new grocery options become available. And it shows that, six months after two grocery stores opened in Philadelphia food deserts, there was no noticeable difference in body-mass index or fruit and vegetable consumption.It’s possible that, in the long-term, interventions like grocery stores do show a positive impact on eating habits. When public health officials talk about expanding access to healthy food, they describe it as a necessary but by no means sufficient first step. There’s no way to help people eat healthier, after all, if they don’t have access to healthy foods. Whether that theory ultimately plays out in practice though remains to be seen.