L.A. fast-food moratorium one step closer to reality

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A moratorium on the opening of new fast food restaurants in one of the poorest areas of Los Angeles moved one step closer to reality on Tuesday in a measure aimed at countering obesity.

A Los Angeles city council planning committee unanimously approved a 1-year ban, which could be extended for a further year, on new fast food outlets in a 32-square-mile (82-sq-km) area of Los Angeles.

The measure, the latest in efforts by U.S. cities to promote healthier eating, will go to the full council for a vote next month.

If passed, it would affect about half a million Angelenos living in an area that supporters say already has about 400 fast-food eateries and few grocery stores.

The proposed moratorium follows a report last year which found that about 30 percent of children living in the South Los Angeles, West Adams, Baldwin Hills and Leimert Park areas are obese compared to about 21 percent in the rest of the city.

It will be accompanied by moves to encourage more grocery chains and fresh food stores to open for business.

“If people want to eat at a restaurant or go shopping at a neighborhood grocery store, these are choices that are not readily available to them at this time,” said Councilwoman Jan Perry, who spearheaded the measure.

The traditional fare at fast-food restaurants is thought to be a contributing factor to rising levels of obesity that can lead to diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

The restaurant industry has lobbied against the measure, saying it places too much blame for obesity at its door.

“Even fast food establishments have healthy choices now. They all offer salads and smaller portions,” said Andrew Casana, a spokesman for the California Restaurant Association.

Several U.S. cities have adopted measure forcing the restaurant industry to adopt healthier standards. California banned the sale of soft drinks in middle and elementary schools in 2003 and a new law requires fast-food restaurants in New York to post calorie counts above the service counter.