Build it and they will come? That maxim may not apply to big supermarkets located in low-income neighborhoods that are otherwise known as “food deserts.”

Food deserts are high-density neighborhoods where residents have easy access to fast-food restaurants and high-priced convenience stories, but have to travel a significant distance to find a big grocery store with fresh fruit and vegetables at reasonable prices.

There’s been an increased focus on getting supermarkets to open stores in these neighborhoods, as a way to combat obesity and improve public health. But a new study, published the Archives of Internal Medicine, suggests it’s not that easy.

Access to a grocery store had little benefit on residents’ diets and did not generally increase fruit and vegetable consumption, the researchers concluded. And more dramatic steps should be considered, such as enacting restrictions on fast-food restaurant chains.

“Our findings provide some evidence for zoning restrictions on fast food restaurants within 3 km of low-income residents but suggest that increased access to food stores may require complementary or alternative strategies to promote dietary behavior change,” the scientists write.

Click here to read more on this from Kaiser Health News. And click here to see an interactive U.S. Department of Agriculture map of food deserts across the country.

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