Restaurants in Los Angeles' poorer African-American neighborhoods offer fewer healthy foods than restaurants in wealthier, primarily white Westside neighborhoods, limiting the healthy choices for South L.A. residents eating out, according to a study published Wednesday in the American Journal of Public Health.

The project, which was developed by the non-profit Community Health Councils Inc. in collaboration with USC and UCLA faculty, found that nearly 40 percent of the wealthier-area restaurants offered five or more healthy food options, compared to just 27 percent of restaurants in African American neighborhoods.

"The greatest contrast was in the number of healthy preparation options: for example, the inability to have a baked potato rather than French fries," said lead author LaVonna Lewis, an assistant professor at the USC School of Policy, Planning and Development.

Researchers looked for healthy menu items such as brown rice, fresh fruit and vegetables without butter, and the availability of healthy preparation techniques, including steaming, grilling and broiling.

The study found that 73 percent of the restaurants in the African-American neighborhoods are fast-food outlets, compared with 42 percent in more affluent neighborhoods. Also assessed was the restaurant environment, including cleanliness, customer service and safety/security. Fewer than 5 percent of the poorer-area restaurants earned a rating of "excellent" in these categories.

"We hope that the findings will be used by residents to begin to argue for healthier options in current restaurants, and to bring in new restaurants that offer healthier choices," Lewis said.

Researchers looked at 348 restaurants in South Los Angeles, Inglewood and North Long Beach, whose populations average 35 percent African-American with a median household income of $35,144, and compared them to 311 eateries in West Los Angeles neighborhoods with an 8 percent African-American population and a median household income of $47,697.

The study, which was funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control, has a goal of bringing economic parity to South L.A. and ending health disparities among African-Americans, who suffer disproportionately from cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

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