A Need for Low-Hanging Fruit

Food Deserts

In the fight against malnutrition and obesity, it is essential an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables be available in every community. Though access to these important dietary components is dangerously low in particular (especially poor) areas  of our country and we instead see a surplus of unhealthy fast-food taking place. Two terms have been coined in order to further qualify the issue: food desert and food swamp.      

A food desert is said to occur in neighborhoods with limited access to a variety of fresh produce. People in these communities tend to be impoverished and often lack a vehicle necessary to bring them to the supermarket. Similarly, a food swamp persists where the majority of accessible food is high-calorie, low nutrient and only available from fast-food joints and corner stores.

Now compare these two maps  from the CDC. The first map indicates obesity in America where darker red regions show the highest obesity rates with 32%-44%!  The second map represents the rate of people living without a vehicle and at least one mile from a supermarket. Dark red indicates high rates of above10%.







These maps express a distinct pattern: people with low access to supermarkets (communities in the midst of food deserts) reside in areas subject to high obesity rates. It’s hard to deny a relationship between food access and obesity and not so hard to imagine where people will be shopping if they can't reach a grocery store; their options are vastly limited to a growing body of low-quality, cheap fast-food.  

Acknowledging the existence of food deserts and swamps is one thing, but making a difference is a complex, multifaceted endeavor. In a follow up article (now available here) I will be discussing ways in which we can combat food deserts and swamps and I will provide tangible examples of efforts already underway in many of our communities. 

In the mean time, become familiar with the USDA’s interactive food desert map -- INTERACTIVE MAP.  Click “Enter Map,” check off different boxes and zoom in/out to display the various data types.  

Also, Food Day 2015 is coming up 10/24.  Look for local events in support of #FoodDay2015 through this website: http://www.foodday.org/