Slowing The Fast-Food Effect

Healthwatch, fast food, calories
CBS/The Early Show

As a doctor at the Los Angeles Department of Health in south central L.A., Maxine Liggins has seen her patients and the community get bigger and bigger, CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports.

"Fast food is abundant in this community," she said. "A high percentage of fast food venues make healthy living very difficult."

Combined with low incomes, few parks for exercise and the rare grocery store, Dr. Liggins says even people who want to lose weight are fighting an uphill battle.

"Nothing but fast food. You walk down the street, you see KFC then Poppey's chicken then you see this place," said Vera Rodriguez. "You don't really see nothing but liquor stores and donut shop. We want supermarkets we want vegetables we are not a bunch of greasy eating drunk people."

With fast food on almost every corner, Dr. Liggins is not exaggerating, by one analysis, 45 percent of the restaurants in south Los Angeles are fast food, compared to 16 percent in other parts of the city.

Obesity rates go hand in hand: in South Los Angeles, 30 percent of the adults are obese. Just 20 percent in other parts of the city.

"It's classist. It's elitist," said local leader Jan Perry, who wants to put an end to it.

"Enough is enough, that is a good way to put it. We are inundated with fast-food outlets in this community. People want a grocery store; they want a restaurant," said Perry, a member of the Los Angeles city council. "Can we have some diversity? Can we have some choices for the people who live here?"

In an area where there are 40 fast food restaurants within a mile of where Whitaker visited and only one grocery store - the city council is taking a bold move - proposing a two year moratorium on all new fast food restaurants in south central - calling it "health zoning."

"If all you ever show people is fast food then they may believe that is all they are entitled to have," Jan Perry said.

Critics call the moratorium government meddling and say the fast food industry is only feeding customer demand.

"I don't think the government should ever be in the position of a parent, in effect, and telling people you are eating too many burgers stop doing that eat more vegetables," said Onkar Ghate of the Ayn Rand Institute.

Still the moratorium idea has struck a chord in the community.

"Everything's fresh, and it's good and sometimes the prices are good," said one mother, Maria Velasques.

Ligging fought for years to get this farmers' market in Watts - it's been open just a month.

"Changing from being an overweight country to a healthy country is going to take incremental changes," Liggins said.

The first change here could soon come from city hall, with elected officials helping decide what's on the menu.