Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What is a 'Food Desert'? By Kimberly Shibles

A food desert can be defined as an area where residents have little or no access to nearby healthy food choices. Inner-city areas are hit the hardest by the lack of grocery stores that are stocked with fresh fruits and veggies, lean meats and dairy, and whole grains. According to Cassandra Leveille in her May 2009 article entitled Living in a Food Desert, this phenomenon began to appear in the US during the 1960's and 70's and coincided with "white flight" where affluent whites left the city in favor of suburban areas. Supermarkets followed suit leaving low-income, inner-city residents with no choice but to purchase over processed, packaged foods (chips, candy, and soda) at convenience stores and high-fat fast food (burgers, fries, and you guessed it, soda) in order to survive (Leveille, 2009).

Paige Parker of The Oregonian notes that "nationally, the typical low-income neighborhood has 30 percent fewer supermarkets than higher-income neighborhoods" (Parker, 2008). This makes getting to a grocery store for quality food next to impossible for people in low-income neighborhoods. The USDA has just released a report on food deserts in America and has concluded that 2.3 million people in the US live more than a mile away from a grocery store and do not have access to a vehicle. Furthermore, 11.3 million low-income people who reside in low-income neighborhoods live more than a mile from a grocery store (USDA, 2009). With a vast number of US residents falling short of access to healthy food, it isn't hard to grasp the negative health effects on this population.

As a result of consuming too many unhealthy food choices, inner-city patrons are more susceptible to severe health problems including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Because of the adverse health effects of eating high-fat, over processed foods, there is a higher rate of premature death among the same residents.

Photo Copyright 2009 Kimberly Shibles. All rights reserved.

Leveille, C. (2009). Living in a Food Desert. Retrieved on July 1, 2009 from:
http://www.campusprogress.org/fieldreport/4092/living-in-a-food-desert

Parker, P. (2008).
Portland's low-income neighborhoods are city's 'food deserts'. Retrieved on July 1, 2009 from:
http://www.oregonlive.com/health/index.ssf/2008/11/living_in_a_food_desert.html

USDA. (2009). Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food—Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences: Report to Congress. Retrieved on July 1, 2009 from:
http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/ap/ap036/

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