Childhood Obesity
11:28 am
Tue November 19, 2013

Could a 'Healthy Food Zone' Keep Fast Food Away from Austin Schools?

A “healthy food zone” ordinance could be in the works for areas surrounding Austin schools, parks, recreation centers, libraries and child care centers. And that could potentially mean a prohibition on new fast food restaurants in those areas.

In an effort to battle childhood obesity, the City of Austin and Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services have developed a Community Health Improvement Plan. One of the priorities in the plan is creating healthier environments for children. To that end, the plan has an objective of creating “healthy food zones” around specific areas by June 2016.

The Austin City Council is set to consider a resolution this week calling on the City Manger to begin gathering recommendations on implementing the zones, including “whether a restrictive ordinance would be beneficial in Austin, and if so, what buffer distance may be most appropriate.”

Council member Mike Martinez, one of the resolution’s sponsors, admits that part of proposal could bring pushback, especially under state law.

“Creating a zone that strictly prohibits certain types of foods, or certain types of retailers that sell unhealthy food, is obviously very difficult,” Martinez says. “Texas is a very pro-property rights state.”

Martinez thinks the ordinance would be more effective in encouraging food-sellers near children to offer better options. “For me, it’s more about providing incentives for businesses that sell food to provide healthier food options in their stores,” he says – and “simply trying to look at every alternative possible.”

At a council work session this morning, Mayor Lee Leffingwell didn’t sound very pleased with the healthy food zone concept.

“Are we going to put hamburgers in the same category as hard liquor here?” he asked. 

If passed as written at the council’s Thursday meeting, the resolution calls for the City Manager to issue a timeline for his future recommendations by the end of the year.