Zoning to Encourage Healthy Eating
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Zoning is primarily a function of local government and typically used as a device for planning. Zoning may be used to restrict land use or incentivize development of land in a particular way. Zoning may define use (e.g., commercial vs. residential) or development (e.g., lot size, building height, etc.).
From a public health perspective, zoning can be instrumental to promote physical activity, increase safety, and promote good nutrition. Examples of local jurisdictions using zoning to promote healthy nutrition include reducing the density of fast food restaurants in a particular area, restricting fast food restaurants within a specified distance from schools, incentivizing farming in urban areas, and incentivizing development of large grocery stores in urban areas.
Landmark Case Related to Zoning
- VILLAGE of EUCLID, OHIO v. AMBLER REALTY CO., 272 U.S. 365 (1926)
This Supreme Court decision, established precedent that a local government is acting constitutionally when it establishes a zoning ordinance so long as the rationale for zoning has a rational public purpose related to public safety, health, or welfare. The creation of a zoning ordinance is not an arbitrary act and local governments have the authority to zone and enforce zoning ordinances as an extension of their police power.
Model Law and Policy Related to Zoning and Obesity
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
CDC's MMWR Recommendations and Reports article titled "Recommended Community Strategies and Measurements to Prevent Obesity in the United States" (July 2009) identifies 24 environmental and policy level strategies to prevent obesity, including zoning strategies communities can implement to reduce obesity. For example, communities can use zoning to increase the number of full-service grocery stores, reduce the density of fast food restaurants, and provide incentives to farmer's markets in underserved areas.
- Centers for Law and the Public's Health
The Centers for Law and the Public's Health at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown Universities published a 2005 document titled, "The City Planners Guide to the Obesity Epidemic: Zoning and Fast Food." [PDF-40KB]. This guide is looks at the complex issue of zoning fast food restaurants as a tool to address obesity. The guide provides "Whereas" clauses that local legislators can use as a preamble, sample language enacted by various jurisdictions, and examples of cases brought by fast food restaurant owners to challenge various zoning regulations, including a summary of case law in various jurisdictions. The Centers for Law and the Public's Health addresses the issue more fully in a larger 2005 monograph entitled, "The Use of Zoning to Restrict Fast Food Outlets: A Potential Strategy to Combat Obesity" [PDF-228KB].
- National Policy and Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity (NPLAN)
NPLAN provides focused legal research, model policies, fact sheets, toolkits, training, and technical assistance to explain legal issues related to the public health issue of childhood obesity. The NPLAN website provides model zoning ordinances that local government officials can use to establish and protect community gardens, increase the number of farmers markets, and create healthy food zones which strive to prohibit fast food restaurants from locating near schools or in areas where fast food restaurants are already extremely dense.
Local Zoning Ordinances
- Los Angeles, California
- In July 2008, the Los Angeles City Council passed a 1-year moratorium on opening or expanding fast food establishments [PDF-851KB] in South Los Angeles. The purpose of the moratorium was to address a perceived over-concentration of fast food restaurants in the South Los Angeles region and allow community planning to attract dining establishments, grocery stores, and other options to enhance the quality of life for community stakeholders.
- The RAND Corporation conducted an analysis of the South Los Angeles moratorium on fast food chains to determine its potential effectiveness. Their 2009 report suggests that although South Los Angeles residents have, on average, a significantly higher body mass index than residents in Los Angeles County overall, the density of fast food chain restaurants is lower in South Los Angeles than other parts of the county.
- Since the South Los Angeles moratorium, other studies have suggested that density of fast food restaurants in the South Los Angeles area is not as critical a factor as the lack of supermarkets available to the area combined with the high number of small corner grocery stores that stock less healthy food choices. Strategies to attract large grocery stores with healthier food choices and educate the public about calories with restaurant menu labeling may be more effective to reduce obesity in the region.
- San Francisco, California
- In one of the earlier actions to restrict fast food restaurants (1987), the San Francisco City Council used zoning to establish the San Francisco Geary Boulevard Fast Food Subdistrict, which restricts any large fast food restaurant from the district. There is no evidence to suggest the ordinance was enacted to reduce obesity, but it provides an early example of a community using zoning law to limit the density of fast food restaurants. The ordinance can be found in Section 781.4 of the municipal code.
- More recently in July 2009, the City of San Francisco, Office of the Mayor issued the Executive Order "Healthy and Sustainable Food for San Francisco" [PDF-66KB], which directs executive branch departments within the city to use existing means, including the zoning code, to promote regional agriculture and economic opportunities to encourage access to healthier foods.
- New York City (NYC), New York
The NYC Green Cart project, established in 2008, demonstrates how the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene works within the existing zoning code [PDF-17KB] to create incentives for vendors who sell raw fruits and vegetables within the NYC limits.
Disclaimer: Information available on this website that was not developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not necessarily represent any CDC policy, position, or endorsement of that information or of its sources. The information contained on this website is not legal advice; if you have questions about a specific law or its application you should consult your legal counsel.
- Page last reviewed: August 21, 2015
- Page last updated: August 21, 2015
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