Today's New York Times contains an article about incentives for full service supermarkets in neighborhoods characterized by little fresh produce, high rates of obesity, and accompanying high rates of chronic disease. The solution--new zoning laws and tax incentives. Will it work? Maybe.
Why don't consumers eat healthy foods? Price is one reason. Time required to get the healthy foods is another. If the supermarkets that locate in the targeted neighborhoods offer healthy foods (including fresh produce) at a reasonable price this will take care of the two issue mentioned--price and access. However, I think there are still other things.
Healthier foods often take longer to prepare. Does the proposed solution solve that problem? No.
Healthier foods may not be preferred for taste. Does the proposed solution solve that problem? No.
Are there ways to solve those problems. Of course, but that takes more investment by the stores. They need to spend money to market healthy foods.
So the question of whether this policy will improve health in New York City (and other locales that may try it) comes down to a two part question:
(1) Are the incentives strong enough with existing demand in the neighborhoods such that the businesses can be profitable if they just set themselves up there with a little help on incentives?
(2) If the answer to #1 is no, is it profitable to locate in new neighborhoods and market healthy foods? In other words, can the demand for the foods that full service markets carry that corner stores don't be shifted enough with inexpensive marketing efforts to make the stores profitable.
I don't know. It will be interesting to see how well this works. Perhaps the stores can work with local community leaders so that the local communities "invest in themselves" and use some of their own effort to encourage community members to purchase and use healthier foods. In short, I'm a little skeptical of the "build it and they will come" approach to providing only supply side incentives.
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1 year ago