Kim Kozlowski / The Detroit News
Detroit — On a recent morning, Yolanda Gilmore and her son, Darnell, stopped at a Church's Chicken for a lunch of fried chicken, french fries, biscuits and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
They weren't making a statement about Detroit's supposed lack of access to healthy food. They ate there because they like the food.
"I think there needs to be more fast-food restaurants in the city," said Gilmore, 37, of Detroit.
Not everyone agrees. This month, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine asked Detroit Mayor Dave Bing to impose a moratorium on new fast-food restaurants. The Washington, D.C.-based group says Detroit already has too many — at least 73 McDonald's, Burger Kings and KFCs by its estimate — and they contribute to health problems in a city with the fourth-highest rate of heart disease in the nation.
Bing has indicated that the request is going nowhere. But the debate lingers and touches on emotional issues including personal freedom and whether government should tell people what to put in their mouths.
"The city is out of balance," said Meredith Freeman, Detroit program director for the Fair Food Network, a national advocacy organization based in Ann Arbor. "Detroit should have options just like any other city. If folks choose to go to McDonald's, that's their choice. But they should also have good food available for them to be able to make that choice, and that's what's missing right now."
In 2007, Farmer Jack closed its stores in Michigan, leaving 900,000 Detroit residents without a national grocer within its 139 square miles. Dozens of independent grocers remain, but close to 40 percent of grocery dollars are spent outside the city, Freeman said.
A 2007 study by Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting concluded that Detroit is so under-served by grocers that "unless access to healthy food greatly improves, residents will continue to have greater rates of premature illness and death."
But some Detroiters argue the city doesn't exactly have a monopoly on fast-food restaurants — or health problems.
Michigan ranked ninth nationwide in obesity, at 28.8 percent, according to a report last year from the Trust for America's Health. And the physicians' group isn't seeking a statewide moratorium on fast food, critics note.
Nor should government dictate what people can eat, said Detroit City Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins.
"Obesity is a problem in our entire state," Jenkins said. "Detroit often gets picked on unfairly."
The physicians' group called for the moratorium in Detroit because it has a reputation as a "progressive" city and could spark a national dialogue about fast food, said Susan Levin, a dietitian with the group. It made similar requests this fall in Washington, D.C., and Chicago that also were rejected.
"I hope we've planted a seed in the minds of political figures throughout the country," Levin said. "It takes a while for government to catch up with science, just as it took a while for governments to recognize and act on the dangers of cigarettes."
Some cities taking action
Detroit has flirted over the years with reining in fast-food restaurants. In 2005, then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick proposed and quickly abandoned a 2 percent "fat tax" on the restaurants to raise money for health initiatives in the city that was reporting high rates of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
But Bing has made it clear he's not going to discourage businesses from opening in Detroit and instead wants to use the Health Department to educate residents on making healthy choices.
"Restaurants do not lead to obesity," said Andy Deloney, spokesman for the Michigan Restaurant Association.
"What leads to obesity is maintaining an unhealthy lifestyle.
We don't think the answer to obesity is dictating to people what their choices will and will not be, restricting access to certain kinds of foods through government fiat. Rather, it is educating people how to lead a healthy lifestyle and letting them make decisions for themselves."
Other cities already are taking action.
In 2008, New York became the nation's first city to require chain restaurants to post calories next to prices of food.
It's a strategy that soon will expand to all states because of a provision in last year's national health care reform law.
That same year, Los Angeles enacted a moratorium on fast-food eateries in the city's poorest and unhealthiest neighborhoods.
It expired, but this month, the city adopted an ordinance that bans the eateries from opening within a half-mile of existing ones in South Los Angeles.
Limiting the establishments in underserved, oversaturated neighborhoods is part of a larger conversation nationally to develop strategies and land-use plans that encourage health, said Lark Galloway-Gilliam, executive director of Community Health Councils Inc. in Los Angeles.
"This whole conversation around food and obesity and nutrition is just taking hold in our country, this is just one strategy," Galloway-Gilliam said. "We need to wake up and pay attention to the fact that we are killing ourselves and killing this next generation. This is a generation that is supposed to die younger than us. That's a tragedy. That cannot be our legacy."
'Folks want to eat well'
In Detroit, meanwhile, activists are working on scores of efforts to improve access to fresh food. The initiatives include supporting existing grocers, encouraging urban gardens and partnering with public markets.
In August, Fair Food Network launched an initiative that provides incentives for fresh food purchases at five produce markets in the city, including Eastern Market, for citizens who rely on food stamps.
Every $20 spent on Michigan-grown produce at the market with a bridge card was matched with funds raised from local foundations. Nearly $80,000 was distributed during a 12-week campaign, which Freeman said demonstrates there is a demand for fresh food.
"Folks in Detroit want to eat very well," Freeman said. "They will eat very well if it's affordable and available."
The Detroit Economic Growth Corp. is working with 81 grocers on store improvements or expansions.
Some grocers such as Metro Foodland are repositioning their marketing campaign around healthy eating, with in-store labeling on different products, healthy recipes and even food demonstrations, while others like Grand Price Supermarket on Grand River are doing a total renovation.
But even those who try to eat well acknowledge the lure of a good burger or fried drumstick — even if they know the food isn't always good for them.
"People like fast-food restaurants," said Detroit resident Jack Wendell, who recently was eating a Big Mac at a McDonald's on Woodward in Midtown but emphasized he doesn't eat there very often and never gets fries.
From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20101229/METRO01/12290376/Group-aims-to-ban-new-fast-food-outlets-in-Detroit#ixzz19cgOrjzJ
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In: News, Other
Tags: Detroit, Church's Chicken, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, McDonald's, Burger Kings, KFC
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