Los Angeles blocks new fast food outlets

City officials are putting South Los Angeles on a diet. The city council voted unanimously to place a moratorium on new fast food restaurants in an area of the city with a proliferation of eateries and above average rates of obesity. The year-long moratorium is intended to give the city time to attract restaurants that serve healthier food.

The moratorium only affects standalone restaurants and not eateries located in shopping centres. It defines fast food restaurants as those that do not offer table service and provide a limited menu of pre-prepared or quickly heated food in disposable wrapping. The definition exempts ‘fast-food casual’ restaurants — such as Subway and Pastagina — which prepare fresh food to order. The ordinance also makes it harder for existing fast food restaurants to expand or remodel.

Representatives of fast food chains said they support the goal of better diets but believe they are being unfairly targeted as they already offer healthier food items on their menus. “It’s not where you eat, it’s what you eat,” said Andrew Puzder, president and chief executive of CKE Restaurant Chain.

Research has shown that people will change eating habits when different foods are offered, but cost is a key factor in changing behaviour. “Cheap, unhealthy food and lack of access to healthy food is a recipe for obesity,” Brownell said.

A report by the Community Health Councils found 73% of South Los Angeles restaurants were fast food outlets. Councilwoman Jan Perry said “Residents are tired of fast food, and many don’t have cars to drive to places with other choices”.

The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency has developed a package of incentives to attract restaurants serving healthier food to inner-city neighbourhoods. Perks include assistance in finding parcels of land, low-interest loans, matching funds for buying utility lines, discounted electricity rates and tax credits.

(Adapted from Associated Press 30 Jul. 2008).