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J Nutr. 2010 Jun;140(6):1181-4. doi: 10.3945/jn.109.111336. Epub 2010 Apr 14.

Zoning for health: the obesity epidemic and opportunities for local policy intervention.

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  • 1Department of Agricultural Economics, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA.


Several states and local communities have started to experiment with policy initiatives that affect the built-up environment in an attempt to decrease the prevalence of obesity. The focus of these policy measures has generally been to eliminate geographical disparities in access to food. Recent policy proposals include the use of zoning laws to create a healthier food environment by providing incentives for chain grocers to open stores in disadvantaged, underserved areas and providing incentives for existing food retailers to offer healthier products. The economic feasibility of implementing these types of interventions depends on the policymaker's ability to identify communities most at need. We use computer simulations, based on introducing new chain grocers in targeted areas, to map the effects on BMI of this modification in the food environment. In this study, we show that targeting economically disadvantaged communities with high prevalence of obesity-related diseases can provide an effective means of identifying areas where policy implementation will be most beneficial for improvements in health outcomes such as BMI.

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