Food deserts: Definition, effects, and solutions
Food deserts are areas in which individuals have limited access to nutritious and inexpensive food due to geographical limitations. This might be due to a lack of financial resources or the need to go further to locate nutritious meal alternatives. People who live in food deserts may be at increased risk for diet-related illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease because they lack access to nutritious foods. Multiple government agencies are currently sponsoring efforts to prevent regions from becoming food deserts as well as to enhance people’s access to food in areas that have already been declared food deserts by the USDA.
Areas where individuals have limited access to a range of nutritious foods are referred to as food deserts.
The USDA defines a food desert as an area where the poverty rate is greater than or equal to 20 percent, or where the median family income does not exceed 80 percent of the median family income in urban areas, or 80 percent of the statewide median family income in nonurban areas, as defined by the federal government.
In metropolitan areas, at least 500 persons, or 33 percent of the population, must reside more than one mile from the nearest big food store in order for the requirement to be met.
Between 2000 and 2006, the USDA identified approximately 6,500 food deserts.
11.5 million of these persons have poor incomes, making about a quarter of the total.
- Populations that are either extremely huge or extremely sparse
- Low income
- Significant levels of unemployment
- Insufficient access to transportation
- A small number of food shops that provide fresh produce at a reasonable price
The survey also points out that rural areas in the Western, Midwest, and Southern regions of the United States are far more likely than rural areas in the Northeast to be classified as food deserts. This may be due to the fact that rural regions in the Northeast tend to be closer to metropolitan areas where food shops may be found. According to the analysis, rural regions with expanding people may be at a lesser risk of becoming food deserts in the near future. Experts have not yet achieved a consensus on the features of the populations who live in food deserts, which is a significant problem.
Researchers have found that some low-income districts have a higher number of food stores and that they reside closer to these stores than persons from wealthier backgrounds, according to the analysis.
It is the absence of mobility in rural regions that is the most important predictor of food insecurity.
Furthermore, because experts have not established a consensus on the features of communities impacted by food deserts, additional study is required.
Such analyses may aid policymakers in identifying places that are at danger of becoming food deserts, allowing them to put in place measures to improve access to nutritious foods. Maintaining a nutritious diet entails the following steps:
- Consuming a diverse range of foods from all dietary categories while keeping calorie consumption under control, minimizing intake of saturated and trans fatty acids, added sweets, and excess salt is recommended.
Foods that are considered healthy by the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans include the following ingredients:
- A range of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Protein-rich meals, such as:
- Seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds, and soy products are all good choices.
It is possible that people who live in food deserts have restricted access to supermarkets and other food shops that sell nutritious and reasonably priced items. Healthful meals are sometimes available in convenience stores and tiny grocery stores; nevertheless, they are frequently out of reach for persons on a fixed budget. People who live in food deserts may consequently be more reliant on food merchants or fast food restaurants that offer a more cheap but limited choice of items to supplement their diet.
As a result, diet-related diseases such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease might occur more frequently.
- Obesity is on the rise, as is the prevalence of diabetes, as are other weight-related diseases, particularly in youngsters.
Numerous food deserts also have limited or costly access to health-care resources. In turn, this has a detrimental impact on the health of the individuals who live in these neighborhoods. People use a variety of phrases to express the availability of food to a community. Other instances are discussed in greater detail in the sections that follow.
A food swamp is defined as a place that gives ample access to nutritious and inexpensive food while also providing an oversupply of less nutritious food alternatives. Food swamps are more widespread than food deserts in Canadian metropolitan areas, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
A food mirage is a term used to describe a situation in which individuals live in close proximity to grocery shops that provide a range of nutritious foods but are unable to buy such goods. As a result, people must go further to acquire nutritious foods that are also within their financial means.
Food insecurity is defined as having restricted or insecure access to food as a result of a lack of financial resources. Families and individuals with limited financial resources may find it difficult to buy nutritious diets. In the United States, policymakers are actively seeking ways to enhance access to nutritious meals in food deserts around the country. The Community Food Programs Competitive Grant Program provides funding for long-term food projects that assist low-income communities in gaining access to nutritious and culturally appropriate diets and lifestyles.
Among the concerns that the Community Food Projects hope to solve are the following:
- Increasing the availability of nutritious, locally sourced meals by implementing the following strategies:
- Affordably priced grocery stores and marketplaces, as well as backyard and community gardens, as well as food aid programs
- Encouraging healthy eating habits by providing education and training on food production, preparation, and nutrition
- Enrolling eligible residents in government nutrition programs
- Increasing access to local farmers markets
- Promoting safe and fair farm worker conditions
- Supporting sustainable agricultural practices that protect the environment, water supply, and habitats
- Assisting food industry entrepreneurs
- Celebrating and honoring diverse food cultures
- Encouraging resiliency in the face of adversity
The term “food desert” refers to a region where people lack access to nutritious foods. They are a huge problem that affects millions of individuals in the United States and throughout the world. According to experts, those who live in a food desert are at a higher risk of developing obesity, diabetes, and other weight-related diseases.
Community Food Projects are attempting to enhance food systems in areas that are considered food deserts. The overall goal of the organization is to assist in increasing inhabitants’ access to nutritious foods.
In recognition of the problem with the term “food desert,” which according to the USDA is defined primarily by proximity to food providers without taking into account other factors such as racism, cost of living, people being time and cash poor, cultural appropriateness of available foods, people’s ability to grow their own foods and so on, the Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) has developed a model that takes into account all of these factors.
- Food Apartheid and Food Oppression are more appropriate phrases, according to the Food and Environment Project, but because food desert is the term that is most widely used, we have chosen to use it as our title.
- The Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture recently issued a report for Congress that found that 2.3 million persons (or 2.2 percent of all US families) live more than one mile distant from a supermarket and do not have access to a vehicle.
- However, economic forces have driven grocery stores out of many cities in recent years, making them so few and far between that a single person’s food shopping trip may require taking multiple buses or trains.
- As demonstrated by the Food Empowerment Project’s study, “Shining a Light on the Valley of Heart’s Delight(PDF),” it is easy to ignore towns that are located in food deserts when depending solely on statistics gathered by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Thus, a municipality with no supermarket and just two corner grocery stores that sell booze and food would be considered to have two retail food outlets, even though the variety of foods served may be relatively restricted and consist primarily of fast food.” Residents of food deserts may also have difficulty locating foods that are culturally appropriate for them, and dietary restrictions, such as lactose intolerance, gluten allergies, and other food sensitivities, may limit the food options available to those who do not have access to larger chain stores that offer a wider variety of foods and ingredients.
In addition, research have indicated that urban residents who shop for food at small neighborhood businesses spend between 3 and 37 percent more than suburbanites who shop for the same things at supermarkets, depending on the commodity.
For example, whereas the total price of fruits and vegetables in the United States climbed by over 75% between 1989 and 2005, the overall price of fatty meals decreased by more than 26% during the same period.
While unhealthy eating may be more cost-effective in the short term, the long-term consequences of limited access to healthy foods are one of the primary reasons that ethnic minorities and low-income populations have statistically higher rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other diet-related conditions than the general population in the United States.
Only twenty years ago, type 2 diabetes was almost unknown among those under the age of 40.
Among recent years, the incidence of type 2 diabetes has increased across all demographic groups; however, the highest increases have been seen in black and brown populations.
These are also the populations that are most likely to live in food deserts, and studies have shown a clear link between food insecurity and an increase in the number of people who develop diabetes.
In order to explain this discrepancy, researchers emphasize that the high-calorie foods that are most readily available in food deserts put residents living in these areas at greater risk for diabetes in the first place, and that having limited access to healthy foods also makes it more difficult for them to manage diabetes once they are diagnosed with the disease.
One of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular disease is a diet rich in unhealthy fats and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is characterised by the sorts of food that are typically accessible in food desert areas.
As a result of the higher incidence of obesity in food desert regions, even children and adolescents living in those areas are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease (both now and when they reach maturity), according to the American Heart Association.
As part of the “Let’s Move” campaign to address childhood obesity, First Lady Michelle Obama has set a goal of eliminating food deserts by 2017, with a $400 million government investment centered on granting tax benefits to supermarkets that establish in low-income neighborhoods as a part of the program.
Chicago– In food deserts, more than 500,000 persons (most of whom are African-American) live, and an additional 400,000 live in communities where there are a disproportionate number of fast food businesses and no grocery stores nearby.
Along with offering fresh and organic fruits and vegetables, bulk whole grains and beans, and soy-based meat substitutes, some of these stores (such as Fresh Family Foods, located on the city’s South Side) also provide cooking and nutrition classes to educate the public about making nutritious food choices.
- Because fewer fast food restaurants were available, there was a greater demand for more and better food options.
- So far, these measures have been successful in bringing the first new grocery to South L.A.
- New York City is a city that has a lot of things to offer.
- Increased rents and shrinking profit margins have caused supermarkets throughout New York City to close in recent years.
- Since 2008, the city has been operating its Green Carts initiative, which has been distributing inexpensive fresh fruits and vegetables to impoverished communities while also offering employment opportunities for vendor participants.
- What can I do if I live in an area where there is no access to food?
- To begin, it’s a good idea to talk about alternative choices, such as producing your own food or collaborating with local businesses to provide healthy, vegan meals.
You can also contact out to others who have worked on this subject if you want to learn more.
The Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture published a report in 2009 titled Bryan provided this information on August 25, 2017.
“Neighborhood features linked with the location of food shops and food service establishments,” by K., S.
The American Journal of Preventive Medicine published its first issue in January 2002, with pages 23-29.
(Robert D.) (editor).
173.ttp: The following URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=NAcmSchlTOYC pg=PA173 lpg=PA173 dq=It+has–been+shown.
The date is June 12, 2008.
The LaSalle Bank commissioned the research.
” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
2 diabetes: Causes.” CDC National Center for Health Statistics.
and Mortality.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
2011 Diabetes Fact Sheet from the Mayo Clinic.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The number of newly diagnosed cases of type 1 and type 2 diabetes is increasing among children and teenagers.
According to a report published on December 6, 2017, the number of newly diagnosed cases of type 1 and type 2 diabetes is increasing among children and teenagers.
Basics was accessed on the 6th of December, 2017.” The American Diabetes Association has a website.
“Bringing Healthy Fare to Big-City ‘Food Deserts.’ Diabetes Predictions for December 2009.
and Mortality.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011.
Publications of the Harvard School of Public Health, 2015.
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lvlid=19(3/05/11) The Office of Minority Health.
Obesity.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report in 2008 titled “Everyone took a stand.” The White House Blog, published on February 20, 2010.
“Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Chicago,” a research project in which The study was commissioned by LaSalle Bank and completed in 2006.
“Would a Walmart be able to alleviate the food insecurity issues in West Oakland and Nashville?” The Los Angeles Times, 5 October 2010.
The New York Times, August 12, 2008.
“In South Los Angeles, New Fast-Food Spots Get a ‘No, Thanks.’” The New York Times published an article on January 15, 2011.
A report published in The New York Times on March 20, 2009, with the sq=food percent 20deserts st=cse(4/02/11).
“Measuring food deserts in New York City’s low-income areas,” New York City Department of City Planning, 2008.
“Measuring food deserts in New York City’s low-income communities.” Page 697 to 700 in Health Place, March 2011. Vol. 17(2), page 697 to 700. Jeff. “Can other cities follow New York’s lead in introducing vegetable carts into food deserts?” The New York Times published an article on March 11, 2010.
What Are Food Deserts?
It is recognized that the term “food desert,” as defined by the USDA, does not adequately account for other factors such as racism, the cost of living, people’s lack of time and money, the cultural appropriateness of the foods available, and the ability to grow one’s own food, among others. The Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering people through the cultivation of food. Food oppression and food apartheid are more appropriate phrases, according to the Food & Environment Project, but because food desert is the term that is most widely used, we have chosen to use it as our title for the sake of consistency.
According to a report provided for Congress by the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, about 2.3 million persons (or 2.2 percent of all US families) live more than one mile distant from a supermarket and do not have access to a vehicle.
However, economic forces have driven grocery stores out of many cities in recent years, making them so few and far between that an individual’s food shopping trip may require taking several buses or trains to get there.
The paper “Shaking a Light on the Valley of Heart’s Delight(PDF)” by the Food Empowerment Project demonstrates that when depending on statistics collected by the United States government, it is possible to ignore populations that are located in food deserts.
Thus, a municipality with no supermarket and just two corner grocery stores that sell booze and food would be considered to have two retail food outlets, even though the variety of foods supplied may be quite restricted and consist primarily of junk food.” The food choices available to those who live in food deserts may be limited as a result of dietary restrictions such as lactose intolerance or gluten allergies, among other things.
- People who do not have access to larger chain stores with a wider variety of foods may also find it difficult to find foods that are culturally appropriate for them.
- When compared to unhealthful meals, healthier options are typically more expensive, which is especially true in food deserts.
- The increased cost of nutritious foods, on the other hand, frequently puts them out of reach for individuals on lower incomes, despite the fact that food inflation has stretched the food budgets of many families regardless of their financial situation.
- Twenty years ago, type 2 diabetes was essentially nonexistent among persons under the age of 40.
- In recent years, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes has increased across all demographic groups; however, the highest increases have been seen in black and brown populations.
- Additionally, these are the groups most likely to live in food deserts, and studies have found a clear link between food insecurity and an increase in the number of people who develop diabetes.
In order to explain this discrepancy, researchers emphasize that the high-calorie foods that are most readily available in food deserts put residents living in these areas at greater risk for diabetes in the first place, and that having limited access to healthy foods makes it more difficult for them to manage diabetes once they have been diagnosed with the disease.
- Diets heavy in unhealthy fats and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, such as the sorts of food typically found in food deserts, are one of the most significant contributors to cardiovascular disease.
- As a result of the higher incidence of obesity in food desert regions, even children and adolescents living in those areas are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease (both now and when they become adults).
- As part of the “Let’s Move” program to battle kid obesity, First Lady Michelle Obama has set a goal of eliminating food deserts by 2017, with a $400 million government investment centered on granting tax advantages to supermarkets that establish in low-income neighborhoods.
- Chicago– In food deserts, more than 500,000 inhabitants (most of them are African-American) live, and an additional 400,000 live in areas where there are a disproportionate number of fast food outlets and no grocery shops in the immediate vicinity.
Along with offering fresh and organic fruits and vegetables, bulk whole grains and legumes, and soy-based meat alternatives, some of these supermarkets (such as Fresh Family Foods on Chicago’s South Side) also provide cooking and nutrition seminars to educate the public about choosing good food choices.
- Los Angeles City Council enacted a ban on new fast food establishments in a 32-square-mile zone that encompasses some of the city’s most dry food deserts, an area in which around 97% of the population is either Latino, African-American, or of mixed racial and ethnic backgrounds.
- So far, these measures have been successful in bringing the first new grocery to South Los Angeles in more than a decade to the neighborhood.
- It is estimated that 750,000 people in New York City live in food deserts, and that around three million people live in areas where fresh produce outlets are scarce or far away.
- However, the disappearance of urban grocery stores has had the greatest impact on low-income communities, particularly those that are predominantly African-American (such as East/Central Harlem and Northern/Central Brooklyn).
- In food deserts, hundreds of Green Carts have already been deployed, and the number is constantly expanding as potential vendors complete training, receive licenses, and obtain local approvals.
- As soon as you discover that you live in a food desert, you may begin by educating individuals in your community about what this entails and brainstorming ideas for how to make a positive difference.
- Bringing your thoughts and concerns to the attention of policymakers—city council members, state lawmakers, and so on—is equally vital.
You can get in touch with us if you’re interested in utilizing the Food Empowerment Project’s survey, which served as the foundation for our study “Shaking a Light on the Valley of Heart’s Delight(PDF).” References: “Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences” is the title of a paper published in the journal Food Research and Technology.
- Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
- A study of neighborhood features linked with the placement of food stores and food service establishments was published in the journal “Neighborhood Characteristics Associated with the Location of Food Stores and Food Service Establishments” by K.
- Wing et al.
- 22(1), pages 23-29), the authors discuss Robert D.
- In Growing Smarter: Achieving Livable Communities, Environmental Justice, and Regional Equity, published by The MIT Press in 2007, p.
- (3/05/11) “It Isn’t Just Genetics,” says Bryan Walsh.
Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Chicago is a paper written by Mari.
statistics on the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents in the United States from 2003 to 2006 2 diabetes: Causes.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
2 diabetes: Causes.” CDC National Center for Health Statistics, 2010.
on the 17th of April, 2017 Newly diagnosed instances of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are on the rise among children and teenagers, according to data obtained on December 06, 2017.
Association for Type 2 Diabetes (A2D).
“Bringing Healthy Fare to Major City’s ‘Food Deserts.'” November 2009: Diabetes Predictions.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Truth About Fats: The Good, the Bad, and the In-Between,” May 2010.
In 2015, Harvard Health Publications published an article on the topic.
lvlid=19(3/05/11) lvlid=19(3/05/11) The Office of Minority Health.
Estimates of the population are presented in “QuickFacts: Population Estimates.” As of July 1, 2016 according to the United States Census Bureau.
The LaSalle Bank commissioned the study, which was conducted in 2006.
“Would a Walmart be able to alleviate the food insecurity issues in West Oakland and Nashville?
In the year 2010, the Almanac of the City of Los Angeles was released.
A fast food intervention is staged in Los Angeles.
sq=food percent 20deserts st=cse(4/02/11) sq=food percent 20deserts st=cse(4/02/11) sq=food percent 20deserts sq=food percent 20deserts sq=food percent 20deserts sq=food percent 20deserts sq=food percent 20deserts sq=food percent ‘In South Los Angeles, New Fast-Food Spots Get a ‘No, Thank You,'” Jennifer Medina writes in her article.
(4/02/11) “Fresh Food for Urban Deserts” is the title of the project.
“Going to Market: New York City’s Neighborhood Grocery Store and Supermarket Shortage,” a report by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, was published in April.
C., Purciel-Hill, M., and colleagues Vol. 17(2), pages 696-700 in Health Place, March 2011. Jeff. “Can other cities follow New York’s lead in bringing veggie carts to food deserts?” According to the New York Times, the 11th of March, 2010.
While there is no universally accepted definition, food deserts are typically understood to be areas where inhabitants do not have easy access to inexpensive nutritional foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as other staples. As a substitute for grocery shops or farmers’ markets, these regions frequently feature convenience stores and petrol stations with minimal shelf space available for healthy selections, making nutritious meals practically unattainable for many families that live in these neighborhoods.
- People’s ability to get healthy food selections might be hindered by a lack of financial and other resources (such as transportation).
- It is likely that the neighbor who drives frequently will have more alternatives when it comes to grocery shopping than his neighbor next door.
- After all, $50 worth of packaged meals and frozen dinners may frequently provide a family with a supper that lasts longer than $50 worth of fresh veggies and lean proteins.
- A food desert might be difficult to define precisely because of this.
- If you live more than 0.5 or one mile away from a supermarket, grocery store, or other sources of healthy, inexpensive food, you live in a food desert.
- Beyond geographic proximity, the department considered additional considerations such as low-income status and availability of a car.
When most public health professionals talk about food deserts, they’re usually talking to metropolitan surroundings – inner cities, for example, where higher land prices might deter many potential grocers from setting up shop there. However, whereas metropolitan regions account for around 82 percent of all food deserts, rural towns are not entirely exempt. As reported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), around 335,000 people in the country live more than 20 miles from a supermarket.
Food deserts are more prevalent in low-income neighborhoods, which are often the worst harmed by them.
According to the USDA, over half of all low-income zip codes (i.e., those with a median income of less than $25,000) qualify as food deserts.
Who Lives There
Low-income folks, particularly those who do not have access to a vehicle or who reside in distant rural locations, frequently have the most difficulty obtaining nutritious foods. For these folks, acquiring nutritious foods necessitates a longer drive to obtain them. That is, of course, assuming that driving is even an option at this point. According to the USDA, more than two million households living in food deserts do not have access to a motor vehicle. The cost of groceries is higher for residents of urban food deserts than for households living in the suburbs.
Despite the fact that lower-income families already devote a bigger proportion of their income to food purchases, living in a food desert implies that a salary will not stretch nearly as far as it would in locations where fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats are more readily available.
Food deserts are also more likely than other locations to have the following characteristics:
- When it comes to accessing nutritious meals, low-income folks, particularly those who do not have access to a vehicle or who reside in rural locations, frequently have the most difficulty. Healthy food is out of reach for many people because they must go a longer distance to acquire it. And that’s assuming that driving is even an option in the first place. As of 2010, the USDA estimates that more than two million families living in rural areas lacked access to a motor vehicle. The cost of groceries is higher for residents of urban food deserts than for those living in the suburbs as well. As a result of the increased operating and shipping expenses in the city, they are estimated to spend up to 37 percent more for the same exact items, on average. Despite the fact that lower-income households already devote a bigger proportion of their income to food purchases, living in a food desert implies that their budget will not stretch nearly as far as it would have in locations where fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats are more readily available. Because of these challenges, it’s no wonder that some families choose the less-nutritious but far more cost choices that are offered to them. Food deserts are also more likely to have the following characteristics when compared to other regions:
It should be mentioned that living in a food desert isn’t the same as being food insecure. Not everyone who lives in a food desert has access to healthful foods. It is usually still an option for those who have the means and chance to do so to go to a large supermarket or have goods delivered to their door step. A person doesn’t have to dwell in a food desert to lack access to goods like healthy grains and fresh veggies. In other circumstances, such meals could be accessible, but exorbitant costs make them expensive to some.
Impact on Health
Ironically, obesity is the most serious public health risk associated with food deserts. Given the fact that those who don’t have easy access to good foods are more likely to eat less healthfully than those who do, this makes sense. A person’s weight increases as a result of poor eating habits, which in turn leads to obesity. Being considerably overweight or obese raises a person’s risk for a wide range of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, among other things.
- Excessive weight may even raise your chance of developing cancer, according to one study, which estimated that 481,000 new cancer cases were diagnosed globally in 2012 as a result of being overweight or obese.
- Aside from obesity, poor eating habits throughout a kid’s first few years of life can have a substantial impact on the ability of the child to develop.
- Nutritional deficiencies in nutrients such as iron, vitamin A, and iodine have been associated to cognitive issues, weakened immune systems, and stunted growth in children and adolescents.
- The chance of having a child born with potentially catastrophic birth abnormalities increases for babies born to mothers who do not obtain enough folate throughout the first trimester of their pregnancy.
- Another issue that is sometimes disregarded when discussing food deserts is the danger they bring to people who have dietary restrictions or food allergies.
- In the United States, around 200,000 people require emergency medical care each year after inhaling or drinking something they are allergic to.
- Even while studies have identified substantial associations between a lack of supermarkets and health problems like as obesity, current research is beginning to suggest that the relationship may be far more convoluted than previously thought.
Low income and low educational attainment have also been associated to obesity outside of the setting of food deserts, and some recent research has suggested that socioeconomic status may be a more relevant factor in nutritional outcomes than access to a grocery store in some situations.
What Can Be Done?
Food deserts have been on the radar of public health departments for some time now, and many have already begun implementing strategies and policies to deliver fresh fruit and other nutritious foods to areas that are currently without access to these resources. The CDC advises many ways to address and avoid food deserts, including:
- Fruit and vegetable deserts have been on the radar of public health departments for some time, and several have already begun adopting strategies and policies to get fresh fruit and other nutritious meals to people living in these areas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises numerous ways to address and avoid food deserts, including:
Food deserts have been on the radar of public health departments for some time now, and many have already begun implementing strategies and policies to provide fresh fruit and other healthful items to areas that are now food deserts. To combat and avoid food deserts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests a number of solutions, such as:
Food Deserts vs. Food Swamps
Following the revelations concerning food deserts, some nutritional gap researchers are moving their attention away from a lack of healthy food alternatives and toward an abundance of bad food options instead. These locations, which have been termed “food swamps,” are not only devoid of grocery shops, but they are also densely packed with fast food restaurants and convenience stores. These locations have been associated to worse diets, and the existence of these places may be an even better predictor of obesity rates than the absence of supermarkets, since the in-your-face availability of bad food alternatives effectively negates any benefits that an increase in grocery shops may provide.
While some communities have focused their efforts on attracting grocery shops, others have attempted to go where people already buy for groceries, encouraging corner stores and petrol stations to devote more shelf space to inexpensive, fresh fruit.
A Word From Verywell
In light of what we now know about food deserts, some nutritional gap researchers are moving their attention away from a lack of good food alternatives and toward an excess of harmful ones. Known as “food swamps,” these regions are not only devoid of grocery shops, but they are also densely packed with fast food restaurants and convenience stores. These locations have been associated to worse diets, and the existence of these places may be an even better predictor of obesity rates than the absence of supermarkets, since the in-your-face availability of bad food alternatives effectively negates any benefits that an increase in grocery shops may provide.
To entice grocery retailers, several communities have attempted to go to where people already buy for groceries, such as corner stores and petrol stations, and encourage them to stock more cheap, fresh food on their shelves.
Another option is to put up mobile farmers’ markets that look like food trucks that can be driven out to hard-to-reach places so that locals don’t have to go out of their way to get nutritious food.
Food Deserts: Causes, Effects, and Solutions
Food deserts are places where residents have limited access to nutritious, inexpensive meals ( 1 ,2). Food deserts, also known as healthy food priority regions, are concentrated in low-income and historically disadvantaged areas throughout the United States, with the majority of them located in low-income and historically marginalized communities ( 1 ,2,3, 4 ). Food deserts are areas where healthful foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, peas, beans, meat, and fish are either prohibitively costly or impossible to get.
Food deserts are discussed in this article, including their causes, health consequences, and proposed solutions.
Public policy and economic activities that are rooted in systemic racism are frequently implicated in this phenomenon.
In low-income and historically marginalized communities, problems such as food poverty, social determinants of health, racial residential segregation, and limited access to transportation are all variables that contribute to health inequalities ( 1 , 7 ,8,9).
Apartheid is a system of racial segregation that is enforced. “Food apartheid,” however, is an emerging phrase aimed to address the core reasons of limited access to good, nutrient-dense foods by communities of color and low-income white individuals. Food activists like Karen Washington,Malik Yakini, and Dara Cooper think that this word more appropriately portrays the systematic racism and health disparities of a corporate-controlled food system. The phrase “food desert” has been criticized in the past for being a distortion of the underlying difficulties that exist in these places.
Furthermore, this phrase neither connects with nor is a part of the identities of the folks who reside inside these territories.
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), 17.4 million American families were food insecure in 2014, according to their estimations (9). Food security is defined as the availability of adequate healthy foods to all people at all times, both physically and economically. It is food insecurity that happens when this access is disturbed or constrained (10). Temporary food insecurity, such as running out of food for a day or two, can lead to long-term food insecurity as demonstrated by chronic poverty and limited access to food (10).
Food insecurity is 2.5 times as prevalent among low-income groups living in food deserts than it is in the general population (9).
Social determinants of health
The social determinants of health are elements that are out of your control, such as access to healthcare or transportation, and that have an impact on your overall health and well-being. These elements have a significant influence in the development of food deserts (11). Income, community infrastructure, and access to supermarkets are all factors that impact the availability of nutritious meals. Other socioeconomic determinants of health that may play a role in the development of food deserts include as follows (1, 8, 11, 12):
- These are variables that are out of your control, such as access to healthcare or transportation, that have an impact on your overall health and well-being and your ability to live a fulfilling life. Food deserts are exacerbated by a number of causes (11). Income, community infrastructure, and supermarket accessibility are all factors that impact the availability of nutritious foods. Food deserts may be caused by a variety of socioeconomic determinants of health, including (but not limited to):
Food deserts are characterized by health inequalities that include high prevalence of chronic illnesses among historically marginalized and low-income populations, as well as high incidence of obesity and diabetes ( 1 ,2, 7 ,11).
Low-income neighborhoods contain a disproportionately large number of Black and Latino people, who are disproportionately disadvantaged by inadequate food availability ( 1 , 7 ,9). It has been demonstrated repeatedly that racial segregation places historically underprivileged communities, notably Black people, in economically depressed neighborhoods ( 7 ,9). In 2016, as compared to the national average, Black families were two times more likely to be food insecure, and Hispanic households had a higher incidence of food insecurity than other ethnic groups in the United States (9).
Transportation and proximity to supermarkets
In food deserts, the distance you have to travel to supermarkets is further than in wealthy communities ( 7 , 12 ). ( 7 , 12 ). Plus, largely Black and Hispanic areas have fewer stores and local food markets — which frequently offer inexpensive and healthful produce — than white neighborhoods ( 1 ,6, 7 ,9, 12 ,13). ( 1 ,6, 7 ,9, 12 ,13). Thus, households in food deserts don’t have equitable access to the healthful foods provided to white and affluent neighborhoods (6). (6). Aside from that, public transportation and automobile ownership both have a role in food accessibility (8,13).
- Because there is no precise definition of food deserts, federal and state governments in the United States categorize localities, states, and populations based on factors such as food insecurity, financial level, and access to stores and transportation (14).
- According to this map, food insecurity climbed in 16 states between 2015 and 2017, however only Nevada, New York, and Rhode Island showed a large rise in the percentage of households with very low food insecurity (14).
- “Very low food insecurity” is characterized as disturbed eating and reduced food intake as a result of limited access to food or financial difficulties (9).
- As a result, food insecurity, limited access to food, and the possibility for food deserts exist throughout the continental United States of America.
- Summary National statistics categorize geographic areas according to their socioeconomic condition, food insecurity, and accessibility to stores and automobiles.
- (15, 16 ).
- Reduced availability to inexpensive, healthful meals among low-income and food-insecure areas adds to poor nutrition and maintains health inequities, resulting in increased incidence of obesity and other chronic diseases among these populations ( 1 , 7 ,9,13,15, 16 ,17, 18 ).
People with chronic conditions who live in food deserts may become trapped in a vicious cycle in which they rely on convenience stores and corner stores, which typically sell pricey items with little nutritional value, thus reducing their ability to purchase nutritious foods in the future ( 18 ).
Understanding food deserts as a kind of food apartheid not only tackles their underlying causes, but it also calls into question the quality of the remedies that are frequently offered as a result.
Simply expanding access to low-cost food does not result in more equitable access to inexpensive and nutritious foods for everybody (13).
Maintaining a focus on the fact that significant structural and policy reforms are required in order to achieve equitable food access Nonetheless, you may begin working on community-based solutions to enhance access to inexpensive healthful foods in food deserts as early as today ( 7 , 20 ).
Community gardens not only help to create green areas and beautify the neighborhood, but they also provide fresh, nutritious produce and inspire people to eat more healthfully. Aside from that, they provide fundamental skills and information about environmental issues such as planting techniques and where food comes from. Finally, communal gardens have the potential to encourage people to invest in their own health.
Farmers markets, arabbers, and roadside carts
Community gardens not only help to create green areas and beautify the neighborhood, but they also supply fresh, nutritious fruit and encourage people to eat more healthily. Aside from that, they provide fundamental skills and information about environmental issues, planting techniques, and the sources of food. Finally, community gardens may encourage people to invest in their own health by growing their own vegetables.
Surplus food sharing
Food sharing partnerships and alliances may help to balance out food waste from wealthier communities with limited food availability in food deserts, so promoting more efficient food economies and reducing food waste. Food rescue groups will even accept food that would otherwise be thrown out at grocery stores owing to flaws or physical abnormalities — but that is still perfectly edible — and resale it at a reasonable price to those who cannot afford it.
Federal resources for low-income people to get healthy foods
- SNAP provides cash support to low-income households while also providing nutritional benefits. The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program provides monthly nutrition packages, incentives for nursing mothers, and benefits for children under the age of five. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) provides support to low-income older persons who are suffering from hunger in their communities.
Nongovernmental food assistance programs
- The provision of medically customized meal delivery and nutrition instruction by Meals on Wheels and other groups such as Moveable Feast is intended to promote racial, socioeconomic, and health justice. In a number of locations throughout the world, Food Not Bombs delivers free vegetarian and vegan dinners. Wholesome Wave collaborates with neighborhood groups to alleviate food insecurity and give nutritious food to those in need of assistance. Low-income populations can get food through food pantries, soup kitchens, and food banks operated by religious or community organizations, which helps to alleviate food insecurity and hunger.
SummaryLocal markets, community gardens, surplus food sharing programs, government food assistance programs, and food pantries are examples of community-based initiatives to enhance access to inexpensive, healthful meals in food deserts. If you need emergency food assistance, call the USDA’s National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273), which is open Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST).
How to improve your nutrition on a budget
No matter how tight your budget is or where you live, there are different methods to consume healthy foods on a limited budget or without access to high-quality, fresh produce. Here are a few examples (23):
- Invest on canned or frozen foods. Fresh meat, fruits, and vegetables are more expensive than canned or frozen foods, but they are also more nutritious and last longer when compared to fresh alternatives. When feasible, choose canned foods that are low in sodium. Nonmeat protein sources can also be considered. For many people, meat represents a significant component of their food expenditures, particularly in the winter. Dried peas and beans have the same amount of protein as meat, but they are less expensive and stay longer. Foods that are in season should be purchased. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, in-season product is simpler to come by and less expensive than out-of-season stuff. Visit roadside booths or other local markets to purchase small amounts of fresh vegetables if they are available in your region in order to reduce food waste. Leftovers should be frozen. Freeze leftovers for reheating later in the week to save money and reduce food waste. It is also possible to reuse leftovers. Take, for example, ordinary rice leftover from Sunday supper, which may be transformed into veggie rice for Monday or Tuesday.
Canned or frozen foods should be purchased. Fresh meat, fruits, and vegetables are more expensive than canned or frozen foods, but they are also more nutritious and stay longer when compared to fresh foods. When feasible, choose canned foods that are low in sodium; experiment with different types of protein. Many people’s food costs are dominated by the purchase of meat. Compared to meat, dried peas and beans have the same amount of protein, but are less expensive and last longer. Foods that are in season are best to purchase.
Visit roadside booths or other local markets to purchase small amounts of fresh vegetables if they are available in your region in order to reduce food waste.
Also, leftovers can be repurposed. In the case of Sunday lunch leftover plain rice, it may be transformed into veggie rice for Monday or Tuesday dinner.