Is the fast food restaurant ban in South Los Angeles working?

SOUTH LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- South Los Angeles resident Norma Gonzalez prescribes to the idea that what you eat is influenced by where you live.

"Fast food restaurants are bad. They do make a difference," says the young mother.

But how much of a difference? As the moratorium on fast food restaurants in South Los Angeles hits its seventh year, the debate rages on.

A new study by the Rand Corporation says the number of eateries per capita in the area is less than the rest of Los Angeles County. Yet, since the ban began in 2008, the percentage of people who are overweight or obese has gone up, the report says.

The Rand Corporation's numbers and its conclusions are disputed by city leaders who activated the moratorium.

Former Councilwoman Jan Perry, who now heads the city's Economic and Workforce Development Department, says the restrictions were imposed to make more land available for grocery stores and healthier dining.

"The moratorium on building new fast restaurants absolutely was never a way to cure obesity and anybody who would assume that quite frankly is rather silly," Perry said.

Data from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, however, seems to contradict the Rand Corporation. Records indicate that the rate of obesity has decreased slightly in South Los Angeles.

Gwendolyn Flynn, the policy director for nutrition resources at Community Health Councils, says the moratorium is just one part of a broader plan to fight diabetes in low-income communities.

"These are behaviors that have taken a lifetime to build up. It takes longer than five to seven years to turn around a lifetime of operating in a certain way," Flynn said.

In an informal poll, residents in a Walmart parking lot say they have more choices than they used to and have learned more about nutrition. They say personal choice is a larger factor in what they consume.

"People are going to eat what they want to eat whether they eat it at a restaurant or whether they eat it at home," South Los Angeles resident Teresa Christian said.

South Los Angeles resident Amy Young said it helps to have the calorie count on the menus.

"You can cook healthy or even go and have a healthy meal at a restaurant. It depends on the condiments and what you put on it," Young said.

As the campaign for healthy eating continues, the Rand researchers say that the biggest diet destroyer in South Los Angeles is actually snacks, especially sugary sodas.

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