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Obesity rates have gone up faster in South Los Angeles than in other parts of the city, despite a seven-year ban on new fast-food restaurants billed as a way to curb unhealthy eating in the area, according to a Rand report released last week.

The Los Angeles City Council approved the ban on new, stand-alone fast food restaurants in 2008, with supporters saying it would scale back the disproportionate number of fast food eateries serving unhealthy fare in South Los Angeles, as compared with other areas, such as West Los Angeles.

Since then, the obesity and overweight rates have increased in several South Los Angeles neighborhoods where the ban went into effect, significantly more so than in other areas, according to the Rand study.

Roland Sturm, the lead author of the study and a Rand economist, said the ban “may have symbolic value, but it has had no measurable impact in improving diets or reducing obesity.”

Sturm said the findings were unsurprising, because most food establishments in South Los Angeles were “small food stores or small restaurants with limited seating” and not covered by the ban, which covers “stand-alone fast-food restaurants.”

Small eateries or food stores that were not banned include ones that sell donuts, baked goods and ice cream, and could include taco stands and convenience stores.

Larger fast food chains have also continued to open in the Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park and other South and Southeast Los Angeles neighborhoods affected by the ban, according to the study.

Between 2008 and 2012, 17 new permits were issued for fast food chains that do not fit the definition of “stand-alone restaurant,” which is prohibited under the policy, according to Rand researchers.

These new food outlets avoided the ban because they are in shared buildings, such as strip malls.

The study also noted that when the ban was put in place, there were actually fewer of the “stand-alone” type of restaurants in South Los Angeles than in other areas.

Sturm and fellow researcher Aiko Hattori tracked permits issued by the Los Angeles County Department of Health to find out how many new fast food and other types of restaurants have opened in South Los Angeles since the ban.

They also consulted the results of the California Health Interview Survey to come up with the obesity and overweight rates of people living in South Los Angeles. A total of 141,597 adults aged 18 or over were interviewed in three separate rounds of the survey. About 700,000 people live in the area covered by the ban.

All parts of the city saw obesity and overweight rates increase from 2007 until 2012, but the South Los Angeles neighborhoods affected by the ban saw even greater increases. The consumption of fast food also increased citywide, according to the survey cited by Rand.

The only “bright spot” was a lower rate of people drinking soda, but this was true citywide, not just in the areas covered by the ban, Hattori said. “Unfortunately, the rates of overweight and obesity increased and they increased fastest in the area subject to the fast food ban,” she said.

The ban also did not appear to change the “food environment” or distribution of eatery types that tend to open in South Los Angeles. As with before, new permits issued in South Los Angeles tended to be for small food stores, while in other areas, they were for bigger independent restaurants, according to the Rand study.

The Rand findings appear to contradict a 2013 study by the Community Health Councils in South Los Angeles that found obesity rates declined 3 percent and diabetes by 2 percent since the ban.

Gwendolyn Flynn, the nonprofit organization’s nutrition resources development policy director, said the ban has done the job of controlling the ”growth of stand-alone fast food restaurants.”

“”There have been permitting of other restaurants that are within strip malls that are in shared use kind of buildings, but in terms of stand-alone restaurants, it has been effective in regulating that growth,” Flynn said.

“The hope was to use sites that would have been taken up by stand-alone fast food restaurants to promote other ways of getting fresher foods closer to folks,” such as urban gardens, Flynn said, pointing to an announcement made last week by Mayor Eric Garcetti that eases restrictions and the permitting process for so called urban gardens that allow growing foods in alternative locations.

When the policy came into place in 2008, the Southland faced an economic downturn and development was not happening. But now that situation has changed Flynn pointed out, and now she said it is a matter of looking for developers with new and different types off restaurants and food establishments.

Flynn also said it is still “too early to tell” what the effect of the ban will be on people’s eating habits, which she said “have been built up over their lifetime.”

She added the ban was never supposed to be an “end all” solution, and that other “strategies and policies” are needed to fully address obesity.

These strategies include instances like the replacing of the Golden Bird chicken fast food store with the Post and Beam sit down restaurant and bringing in options like certified farmer’s markets. They also include upgrading existing small stores so that they can include refrigeration and other resources to maintain and sell produce.

Flynn also noted that the Rand data was actually individually reported data, which she said can be a little biased. She said Los Angeles County department data reported from June 2009 to March 2013 which found the obesity and incidence of diabetes actually went down, is much more reliable.

Complicating the South Los Angeles food situation is the recent announcement that a number of Fresh and Easy markets are closing.

There are currently four of these stores in the area that in provide fresh produce and enable residents to purchase fast, easy meals to cook. These markets are also located in so-called “food deserts,” which have historically suffered from a dearth of fresh, affordable food.

Three of the company’s locations will join an estimated 30 others in the region—Compton at Rosecrans and Central avenues; Central Avenue at Adams Boulevard; and Alameda Street and Florence Avenue—that are slated to be shuttered by Fresh and Easy. A location at Figueroa Street and Jefferson Boulevard, across the street from USC, is expected to remain open.

Compton Councilwoman Janna Zurita was shopping in the Compton store, when employees informed her that the location would be closed. She said the closure was news to the city and expressed outrage that the company was shutting down the location, without notifying the city, after all the support citizens had offered Fresh and Easy.

The move leaves Compton with only three supermarkets—a small Ralphs, Superior Market and Food 4 Less.

An estimated 500 jobs will be impacted by the closing of the stores (about one-third of the local Fresh and Easy locations), reported a Fresh and Easy spokesman. The company is working to place as many employees as possible in the remaining stores.

Fresh and Easy issued this statement: “Fresh and Easy has spent much of the past year and a half since transitioning to new ownership, transforming into a new business focused on delivering a new vision of modern convenience. This transformation was always going to be a challenge but the company has accomplished several major initiatives including a massive renovation project and re-launch in Las Vegas with an all-new fresh food concept. Just this month the company rolled out a new e-commerce Click & Collect service in Las Vegas, which will serve as a test for a wider rollout. Fresh & Easy has also put innovation at the forefront of the transformation of its food manufacturing business, building a successful third-party business model out of its Riverside commissary facilities.

The company is now in a better position to rationalize its store base and divest locations that do not meet the criteria of Fresh & Easy’s model of modern convenience. This move allows the company to redeploy capital into development and growth, including a 3,000 to 5,000 square foot store to provide a higher level of convenience and greater density. Fresh & Easy is also working with ADMI, the innovative firm behind the design of the Apple Store, to design the Fresh & Easy store of the future—a concept that the company believes represents the future of convenience retail and puts Fresh & Easy into a category of one: The only fresh food convenience store.”

City News Service contributed to this story.