It is an unfortunate fact that not all communities are created equal. There are many right here in the United States that do not have access to basic resources that many of us take for granted. Take, for instance, a grocery store. Some towns have several to choose from, others have none and must deal with lengthy travel to reach one or buy their food at a convenience store or bodega. According to the US Department of Agriculture, about 2.3 million people live more than one mile away from a supermarket and do not own a car. With little to no public transportation in many areas how is this possible for people with low economic means? Enter the concept of a food desert….a community or area with low quality food access, particularly regarding fresh fruits and vegetables.
Health disparities across communities exist for many reasons, one of which is poor nutrition. Walk into any convenience store and you find a plethora of candy, snack food and pre-packaged microwave items, but minimal (if any) fresh food choices. Despite the lack of grocery stores or farmers markets, there are usually plenty of fast food restaurants that offer cheap options, making them appealing for families. It is well-known that fast-food lacks nutrition and offers meals that are high in fat, salt and sugar. It is for these reasons that you often see health issues such as obesity and diabetes in communities designated as food deserts or low-income.
Map of designated food deserts in the US (source: USDA)
So what can be done? On a larger scale, advocacy for communities in food deserts must continue. Many organizations have partnered with communities or begun their own grassroots approach to solve the issues. Fresh Truck, a non-profit based in Boston that brings a mobile produce market to food desert communities, was started after a neighborhood grocery store was shut down for a particular community. This is one example of how a need was met by people coming together.
Advocacy and community organizing is essential to address the food desert issue long-term, but how can families cope when it comes to cooking meals and staying healthy today and tomorrow? A 2014 study published in the Health Affairs Journal found that new neighborhood grocery stores increased awareness of food access but did not alter dietary habits or obesity. The author of this study argues that quality health and nutrition education paired with food access and improved marketing for healthy foods at the supermarket level is the best approach to addressing the issue.
KickinNutrition.TV is an innovative approach to health and nutrition that aligns with Common Core & National Health Education Standards. Our mission is to reach diverse communities and deliver the quality nutrition education that kids and families need to navigate healthy eating, improve health outcomes and ultimately reduce health disparities. While one organization or approach cannot solve the food desert issue alone or overnight, through collaborative partnerships we can begin to bring the necessary resources to those communities who need it most.