Wow. Our experiment is off to a great start—let's see if we can finish it off sooner than expected.
The logic usually applied to "food deserts" seems straightforward: If you make fresh food available to low-income areas that lack access to it, consumption habits and obesity rates will change. As the Washington Post pointed out on Friday, the Obama administration's $400 million Healthy Food Financing Initiative is precisely this kind of plan, as is Philadelphia's new $900,000 program to retrofit its corner stores.
But there's a problem with this thinking. As the Washington Post and our own Kevin Drum have noted, a growing body of evidence suggests that bringing veggies to poor neighbors doesn't necessarily fix the obesity problem, nor does it change habits. Instead, the environmental factors of obesity appear to be myriad and manifold, and the causal relationships are baffling as hell.
Enter another fascinating conversation to the mix: Researchers at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health recently published findings that pregnant women exposed to higher levels of PAHs (chemicals released into the air from the burning of coal, diesel, oil, gas and tobacco) more than doubled their risk of bearing children who would be obese by the age of 7. The correlation was consistent with the findings from experiments in mice, in which researchers discovered that exposure to PAHs resulted in increased fat mass. Not only did mice feel the bulge, but cell culture studies also revealed that exposure to PAHs limited fat cells' ability to normally dispel lipids. The Columbia study is one of the first to show that obesity in humans isn't only affected by what you eat—it's also what you breathe in the air around you.