Study: Los Angeles Fast-Food Ban Went Bust

Published March 27, 2015

In 2008, the city of Los Angeles passed strict regulations on fast food restaurants in an effort to force citizens to adopt a better diet. But seven years later, the regulations have had no effect on either the diets or weight of area residents. 

Utah State University economics professor William F. Shughart II says the Los Angeles fast-food ban is an example of ineffective legislation. Shughart is a policy advisor for the Heartland Institute, who publishes Budget & Tax News.

‘Legislating Morality Doesn’t Work’

“Once again we see that legislating morality doesn’t work,” said William F. Shughart II, the J. Fish Smith Professor in Public Choice at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. “These regulations are just an effort to regulate morality. But it turns out that people don’t reduce their consumption of the foods that are targeted by these laws.”

“It used to be ‘sin’ was drinking and gambling, but now sin is eating potato chips instead of apple chips or eating fast food instead of a healthful diet,” Shughart said.

“The behavior these rules are trying to stop remain very resistant to changes in price or other restrictions.” He concluded saying, “These public policies that aim to stop an obesity epidemic by making fast food cost more or harder to get are failing to change anyone’s behavior and are just like a tax on the poor. These regulations end up as a burden on the very low income people the rules are supposed to benefit.”

Taking Away Options

Mercatus Center at George Mason University Regulatory Studies Program fellow Sherzod Abdukadirov says he was not surprised by the outcome of the fast-food ban.

“It makes sense that the regulations didn’t really work” Abdukadirov said. “The question should have been what did Los Angeles regulators expect people to do in response to the policy? The reason people go to fast food restaurants is because they are looking for cheap food. So, if the over whelming concern is the cost of food then whether there are restrictions or not people will go to those places one way or another.”

“These restrictions would not force residents to switch to healthy options because healthier foods often cost more,” Abdukadirov added.

“It’s not just about what you want people stop doing, but what other options they have and these regulations just didn’t offer any alternatives. It really just comes down to the fact that the city didn’t think through the results of the policy. If there aren’t healthy, cost effective alternatives, people will just see longer lines at the fast food places,”Abdukadirov said. 

Warner Todd Huston ([email protected]) writes from Streamwood, Illinois.

Internet Info:

“Diet and Obesity in Los Angeles County 2007-2012: Is There a Measurable Effect of the 2008 ‘Fast-Food Ban,'” Aiko Hattori and Roland Sturm, RAND Corporation,