“Food Deserts: Fellow Jon Caswell at AHA describes these as areas of low income in Unites States (urban neighborhoods) more than a mile from a supermarket, healthy options may be scarce.” A key goal of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign is to eradicate food deserts by providing incentives to encourage supermarkets to open in these neighborhoods.What makes a food desert?
The US Department of Agriculture de nes food deserts as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food.” Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities are served mainly by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that don’t typically offer healthy, affordable food options.
Food deserts in urban areas are de ned as no supermarkets or full-service food retailers within a 1-mile radius; rural areas are de ned by a 10-mile marker because the population is more sparsely distributed.
In the absence of convenient access to healthy food, people in food deserts may pay higher prices for lower-
quality food at corner stores and fast food restaurants. They may also need to travel great distances to the nearest supermarket, a challenge for the 2.1 million households without a vehicle who live in a food desert.
Who lives in food deserts?
According to the USDA, food deserts have a greater concentration of minorities — 53 percent more in their most recent analysis. One multistate study found that eight percent of African-Americans live in a census tract with at least one supermarket, compared to 31 percent of whites. A study of census data from 2000 concluded that ZIP codes in predominantly African-American neighborhoods had about half the number of chain supermarkets compared to predominantly white neighborhoods, and predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods had about a third as many chain supermarkets as non-Hispanic neighborhoods.
More than 11 million people who are further than 1 mile from a large grocery store are low-income — which was de ned in 2000 as a household income less than $17,050.
And as a result
People in food deserts suffer from higher rates of obesity and other chronic, diet-related diseases.
A 2006 study of more than 10,000 adults found that for those living in neighborhoods with supermarkets and grocery stores, 21 percent were obese and 60 percent were overweight compared to 32 percent obese and 72.5 percent overweight for those living in neighborhoods with access to only convenience stores.
In a survey of diabetic adults in East Harlem in New York, 40 percent of respondents said that they did not follow the recommended diet because those foods were more expensive in their neighborhood stores. Many said that foods for people with diabetes were not available at their local markets.
Researchers found that people with more large supermarkets in their neighborhoods had greater availability of fresh fruit and green vegetables — a critical component of a hearthealthy diet.
And it’s not just that way in urban areas. West Virginia and Mississippi have the highest rate of obesity of any states. A 2006 study found that adults in rural Mississippi food deserts are 23 percent less likely to eat the recommended fruit and vegetables than those in counties with supermarkets.
But opening stores in food deserts is difficult because of a host of financial obstacles: land development costs, employee training, insurance and more.
Financing programs have cropped up across the country. In New York, a program called the Healthy Food & Healthy Communities Fund has provided $30 million in financing since 2011. The fund is administered by the nonprofit Low Income Investment Fund with its partners The Food Trust and The Reinvestment Fund. This program, along with some in New Jersey and Colorado, were modeled after the much lauded Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, also led by The Food Trust, The Reinvestment Fund and the Urban Affairs Coalition.
Excerpts from Wintermag AHA