Study: Living in a healthy community is key to weight loss

Even if you are motivated to make lifestyle changes in order to lose weight, a major factor in your success is what’s in the grocery stores near you, according to a new study out of the University of Massachusetts.

Access to healthy food could be as important to weight loss as your desire for change or help from doctors and nutritionists, the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Massachusetts Department of Public Health found.

A group of 240 obese adults were referred to the study by their doctors and coached through one of two weight loss plans: One based on the American Heart Association Dietary Guidelines and the other focused on increasing fiber in their diets.

Regardless of the plan they were on, the people who lived closest to grocery stores that offered healthy food were most able to adhere to their weight loss plan. The study found this was true no matter the age, race, education or income of the person.

In short, your neighborhood affects the lifestyle changes you need to make to lose weight.

So, making healthy choices and losing weight in communities that aren’t served by a large grocery store could be harder than in other neighborhoods.

Chicago has a number of these communities, called “food deserts.”

Where are the food deserts?

Click here to check out a Sun-Times map of neighborhoods considered to be food deserts.

What’s being done to improve the situation?

The Sun-Times reported in July that “the latest research by food-desert researcher and consultant Mari Gallagher shows that an influx of supermarkets has reduced Chicago’s food-desert population by 55 percent, to 288,000, from her initial report of 2006.”

A Whole Foods is planned for Englewood in a ward that hasn’t had a grocery store in nearly 30 years, the area’s alderman said at the time. It’s not open yet.

Grocery chain Mariano’s recently received $5 million from the state to build five stores in food deserts, as well. None are open yet.