Los Angeles, California, is famed for odd approaches to the world that then catch on. According to the Wall Street Journal, L.A. is now trying to ban fast-food in a specific portion of the city where obesity rates are at 30%, nine points above the rest of the city and about four and half points above the national average. In this case L.A. is not the leader in banning fast food but it may be a leader in invoking health issues for such a ban. The usual nanny state criticisms are in play, and the head of the California Restaurant Association points out that sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition education are part of the problem. Of course the article points out that ordinances requiring to restaurants to post nutrition information (dare we say nutrition education information) are being challenged by, guess who?, yes! the restaurant industry as forced speech (required delivery of a government message).
The article also notes that many in the area affected think it may be a good idea because alternatives are few and maybe other restaurants will enter the market. That may be, but the proposed ban does not seem to address local establishments that may be offering wonderfully fat and/or salt filled but in that sense worse food. (Yes I will happily indulge in an occasional foray to a local restaurant (or food shack as it may be) for the bad-for-me but oh so blasted good tasting food). In addition, WSJ does a great job reporting that bans on transfat that affect all restaurants changes all behaviors and seems to have fueled shifts in menus like salads and fruit appearing even at fast food venues.
Given the rising cost of food, fast food restaurants could become the best way to deliver healthy food at lower cost. Changing the desires for or increasing the knowledge of why the bad stuff is bad then is a vital piece of that puzzle.
So the efforts to address obesity through building parks and better education are great. This ban seems to be onto something too. But the ban as reported seems to attack a lever (of course folks go to the place that is known and advertised as the comforting, inexpensive food we love (the Big Mac attack) that is part of the problem while leaving gaps for others to offer similar food. If the restaurant industry wants to play ball fairly, they give up the fight on the nutrition data posting issue, SPEND more on educating folks, and then sell the better food from their restaurants. The fast food chains have the scale so that they can be leaders in that space rather than fighting the trend to hold onto an ill-advised approach to their business at least from a public health view.