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Local governments can use their zoning powers to address health and welfare of residents who do not have access to healthy food. Zoning policies can control the food environment through regulating land use of a community by

  • Allowing designation of community food gardens and farmers markets, and by
  • Limiting commercial food retail, such as fast food businesses, or allowing as-of-right or incentives to those businesses that increase access to healthy food.

Policies can control a fast food business’s ability to occupy a retail space, limit how many are allowed in a given space and their density, put a freeze on their development and proximity to each other, and require a minimum distance from schools.

Resource Library/ White Papers

The Center for Law and the Public's Health at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown Universities. The use of zoning to restrict fast food outlets: a potential strategy to combat obesity. Available at: [PDF - 228 KB].

Zoning for community gardens. Available at: Boston established a specific community garden category that can be zoned as a sub-district within an open space zoning district. Identifying prime locations for community gardens aids in their creation and emphasizes the importance of this use to the city.

The City of Detroit, MI, requires a minimum distance of 500 ft between specified standard, carry-out, fast-food and drive-in restaurants and elementary, junior high, and high schools. Available at: [PDF - 82 KB].

Journal Articles

Austin SB, Melley SJ, Sanchez BN, et al. Clustering of fast food restaurants around schools: a novel application of spatial statistics to study of food environments. Am J Pub Health 2005;95(9):1575–581.

Crawford D, et al. Neighborhood fast food outlets and obesity in children and adults: the CLAN Study. International Journal of Pediatric Obesity 2008;3(4):249-256.

Macdonald L. Neighborhood fast food environment and area deprivation—substitution or concentration? Appetite 2007;49:251–54.

Sturm R. Body mass index in elementary school children, metropolitan area food prices and food outlet density. Public Health 2005;119:1059-68.

Currie J, DellaVigna S, Moretti E, Pathania V. The effect of fast food restaurants on obesity. Foodplanning Digest January 2009;52(20). Available at: [PDF - 357 KB].

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