Proposed fast food moratorium in L.A. is the wrong approach

Don't look for the bright shiny new KFC anytime soon in South Central. Today Los Angeles will vote on whether to ban new fast food restaurants from opening in a wide-swatch of low-income area of town for a year. The reason? Obesity has soared in those areas.

The proposal, put together by councilwoman Jan Perry, would place a one-year ban on any new fast food restaurants opening in a 32-mile radius. About 500,000 residents, largely lower income citizens, would be affected.

Perry has said the idea behind the proposed moratorium, which could be extended for up to two years, was to offer residents of her district healthier food choice. The L.A. Department of Public Health last year released a study showing that that 30% of children in South Central were considered obese, compared to 25% of children city-wide.
Not surprisingly, the California Restaurant Association was apoplectic. Fast food is the only kind of restaurant that wants to be in those areas. Take it away, and what's left?

It would be nice to think that markets abhor a vacuum, and that if Micky D's couldn't open another store, maybe a Whole Foods would...but that's unlikely. And although I realize obesity is fast becoming a public health concern, I question whether interfering with free market forces is the way to address those concerns. Especially when there is already no dearth of fast food choices there already. A recent study showed that 73% of the food outlets in South L.A. were fast food, compared to only 42% on the West Side.

What is needed is a way to get healthy food that's affordable into those areas. Other inner cities, such as Philadelphia, are tackling these issues with concrete action. L.A. should be able to do it too...if it's willing to put its money where the mouths are.
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