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    City Considers Expanding Fast-Food Ban to C-stores in South LA

    Activists say snack foods cause obesity in poor communities, but 7-Eleven points out ban would deprive low income areas of needed shopping choices.

    LOS ANGELES -- Citing a study that found calories from snacks were a likely culprit of higher obesity rates in South Los Angeles, civic activists and a city council member want to limit the development of new convenience stores there.

    The new ban on c-store development would not be without precedent -- last year the City Council placed restrictions on new fast-food restaurant development in a 32-mile area of South LA -- home to roughly 500,000 residents.

    According to a report by the LA Times, Santa Monica think tank Rand Corp. published an article in the research journal Health Affairs last week that said calories from snacks were a likely culprit of higher obesity rates in South Los Angeles. The authors also found South Los Angeles had a dramatically higher concentration of the type of small convenience store that sells caloric snacks than other sections of the city, according to the LA Times.

    Citing other similar surveys, the Times reported that the Los Angeles City Council is set to consider a proposal that would limit the density of small food stores in South Los Angeles. The proposal, part of the Developing Southeast Los Angeles Community Plan, would prohibit such small neighborhood markets from being closer than one half-mile from one another unless they sold fresh fruit and vegetables.

    Despite the studies linking snack calories with higher obesity rates in poor communities, regulating the location of stores might not be helpful, said one of the authors of the Rand study. The study noted nearly 26 percent of the residents of South Los Angeles are considered obese, compared with approximately 18 percent of the residents of Los Angeles County who live in higher-income neighborhoods.

    However, the Rand research also found residents of South Los Angeles are far more likely to walk or use public transportation to shop for food than Angelenos who live in other sections of the city, and this limits their choices, according to the report. Thus, limiting their choices would make it harder to purchase food to be consumed at home, said one of the authors of the report.

    The convenience store industry is against more regulation.

    "Convenience stores, whether they be a 7-Eleven or other, provide needed products and services to communities, especially lower income or areas with high crime," said Margaret Chabris, spokeswoman for Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc., which has 50 stores within the Los Angeles city limits.

    "Sometimes larger supermarkets won't venture into the tougher neighborhoods, but mom-and-pop stores, locally run convenience stores, will," she told the Times.

    C-stores "provide food, groceries, paper products, money orders, ATM services and over-the-counter medicine around the clock. They can also be a safe haven when someone on the street or in the neighborhood is in trouble and needs a place to go or make a phone call," she said.

    The chain also sells sliced fruit and other healthful snacks in addition to chips and soda, Chabris pointed out.

    South Los Angeles has 58 small food stores per 100,000 residents, according to the Rand study. West Los Angeles has only 14.

    The report did not give a reason why there is such a difference, but it conjectured that it could be due to the lack of traditional supermarkets in South Los Angeles -- only three compared with 10 in West Los Angeles -- which has left a vacuum that the small stores fill.

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