A recent paper by Alessandro Bonanno and Stephan Goetz in the International Food and Agribusiness Management Review looks at the relationship between food store density, nutrition education, and obesity.
Here is the issue:
Understanding the role of the food environment vs. nutrition education in expanding the share of adult population engaging in healthy eating habits has clear policy implications and is relevant for the agribusiness sector as a whole. Food retailers and food service companies, as well as many food manufacturers, are under scrutiny for their potential roles in shaping diets and in contributing to the obesity epidemic. This study seeks to provide additional evidence on whether policies aimed at regulating the food environment (i.e., the location of food retailers and restaurants) are likely to achieve the intended goals
no evidence of a negative causal relationship between the density of food-service establishments and the state-level incidence of adult healthy eating (similar to Collins and Baker, 2009, who find no “Granger causality” on obesity incidence using nationwide data), suggesting that policies aiming to restrict access to these outlets may have little impact on improving healthy diets.
Our results indicate that expenditures on nutrition education programs can improve eating habits and, indirectly, curb the incidence of adult obesity. However, increases in nutrition education efforts would have to be substantial. . . . our results indicate that quadrupling average expenditure on nutrition education . . . could reduce adult obesity by 0.8%; the feasibility of such a large spending increase as a policy tool is unlikely