New Grocery Stores Alone Won't Solve Health Problems in Southern Dallas' Food Desert

Categories: Food News

Walmart.jpg
Walmart
It's been more than two years since a new Walmart was proposed as a solution to the food desert status in South Dallas. The store finally opened this year, but now researchers are saying grocery stores like it will likely have no impact on the health of nearby residents.

"Food desert" is used to describe neighborhoods that lack reasonable access to fresh food. Throughout many neighborhoods in southern Dallas, the only stores that sell groceries offer the processed snacks and fried foods that have been contributing to the area's increased risk of illness. The hope was that providing access to fresher ingredients would help residents make more healthful decisions, but Stephen Matthews, professor at Penn State University, says it's not enough, according to a recent NPR story.

Matthews' team surveyed residents in a Philadelphia neighborhood before and after a grocery store with a wide selection of produce opened nearby, and they found that the new store had no impact on how neighborhood residents ate. Matthews isn't arguing that we should abandon efforts to increase access to fresh foods, but they show new stores alone won't have an impact on community health. It takes time to rebuild habits and learn how to work those fresh groceries into a family's routine.

An ongoing UCLA project offers that residents in these neighborhoods also need to be taught what to do with their newfound produce. Through cooking demonstrations and other promotional efforts, they claim they're increasing demand for produce in East Los Angeles, for instance.

In southern Dallas, access to fresh food might continue to improve. Just as the Walmart opened, WFAA recently reported that the City Council received a plan to fund the demolition and redevelopment of a partially vacant property in South Dallas, to include a grocery store. But if these studies prove correct, the store won't be enough.

It's obvious, according to Matthews, that lots more work needs to be done to break people out of eating habits reinforced by decades of limited access to good food. So even if Dallas continues to successfully court big-name grocers, it doesn't matter until they invest in programs that will back those efforts up.


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6 comments
kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

It's a cultural thing: trust me, I know......we had the same problem growing up.  Diets based upon fat, starches, more starches and more fat; and god forbid you ever said anything!

brad.mason.dallas
brad.mason.dallas

Where are all these decrepit kitchens in Southern Dallas?  Oak Cliff resident for over 25 years right off 35 behind the Zoo in what we refer to as a pocket neighborhood and my kitchen is perfectly functioning and used regularly.


Greg820
Greg820

Remember that crappy stove you had in college that took 30 minutes to halfway heat your pan and the oven that heated the entire house?  And when you inevitably burned something the smoke had nowhere to go because there was no outside vent?  Welcome to the vast majority of kitchens in Dallas, if not the nation.  Access to healthy food is one thing, cooking it efficiently and safely is an entirely different matter.  What is really needed is access to healthy, locally-prepared foods in the manner of Central Market.  

Greg820
Greg820

@brad.mason.dallas  I'm thinking of those 750sq ft shacks that have a barely functioning heat/AC unit not to mention a tiny, outdated kitchen.

emmparks
emmparks

@Greg820 Right, because South Dallasites are going to pay $15 for a take-home dinner for 2 over paying $2 for 2 double cheeseburgers at McD's.

Greg820
Greg820

@emmparks @Greg820  No, they are not.  Such prepared foods would also need to be affordable and allowable for purchase with Food Stamps.  All of this will take a long, long time, but the thought that people are going to regularly cook meals in decrepit kitchens is just as farcical.

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