An Idea Is Born

Great Ideas That Don’t Work

The landscape of obesity treatment and prevention is littered with great ideas that don’t work. The trouble is that rigorous testing is expensive and uncommon, so it’s tough to tell what works from what might work or from what doesn’t work. Just published in Obesity is one of those rare studies that rigorously examines a popular idea — healthy corner store initiatives — and finds that it might not be ready for prime time.

The idea makes perfect sense. Neighborhoods with high rates of childhood obesity are marked by a dominant presence of corner stores selling unhealthy snacks. So promoting the availability of healthy food options seems like a good thing.

Michelle Lent and a team of researchers in Philadelphia took on the task of implementing a randomized controlled trial of a healthy corner-store initiative to measure the impact on food and beverage purchases over a two-year period. The subjects were 767 kids in grades four to six from ten different schools randomized to observation or a rigorous healthy corner store intervention.

They found no effect on calories purchased, BMI scores, or obesity prevalence.

The study is a big success. It provides solid, well-controlled data that simply did not exist before. It doesn’t prove that healthy corner store programs can’t work. But it does tell us that we can’t assume they will. And it provides important clues for devising more effective interventions

So before we pour money all over this and other ideas that sound great, we’d better make sure we’re working with something that will work with us.

Click here to read the study and here to read an analysis of lessons learned from healthy corner store strategies.

An Idea Is Born, photograph © Aftab Uzzaman / flickr

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