Food Deserts Offer Little Access to Nutrition
In the United States often the locations where food is grown and harvested are also where hunger is most prevalent. Across the country, in areas where agriculture is a significant industry, food insecurity is a common problem. The lack of nutrition available is often due to a lack of access to grocery stores.
Geographic areas in which nutrition is scarce and grocery stores are spread far apart are referred to as food deserts. In a food desert, residents do not have access to affordable, healthy food options like fresh fruits and vegetables. They may also struggle to obtain lean meats and dairy at an affordable price.
Take a look at a few facts you may not know about food deserts and the limited nutrition they offer:
Who is living in food deserts? Approximately 23.5 million people live in areas designated as food deserts, and nearly half are low-income. For 2.3 million people, or 2.2 percent of all households in the United States, grocery stores are at least 10 miles away from their low-income, rural home.
The number of residents living in food deserts may be under-reported. The North American Industry Classification System considers small corner grocery stores as a comparable grocery store to a market like Safeway or Whole Foods. Often, these small grocery stores sell mainly packaged food and little in the way of fresh produce or meats.
How does this affect everyday life? Some residents located in a food desert may not have the transportation they need to reach a fully-stocked grocery store. Even if they own a car, paying for gas to make weekly or biweekly grocery runs may be cost-prohibitive. For those that have dietary restrictions, it may be challenging to find the foods they need.
Limited access to the nutrition they need often results in a more convenient choice than traveling several miles to the nearest grocery store. For instance, those living in the poorest social-economic areas have 2.5 times the access to fast food when compared to those living in wealthier areas. For those with limited access to childcare and working full-time, it may seem impossible to do anything but the most convenient option.
What can be done? The “Let’s Move” campaign organized by First Lady Michelle Obama has included in its objectives a goal of eliminating food deserts by 2017. It is supported by a $400 million investment from the government, providing tax breaks for grocery stores that opt to open a market in a food desert.
Second Harvest Community Food Bank’s perishable food pantry, Fresh Start, is located at the heart of a large food desert. Offering fruits, vegetables, lean meat, dairy and whole grains, Fresh Start is a valuable resource for those that need access to fresh foods.
If you are interested in learning more about Fresh Start or would like to volunteer, please give us a call. Whether you would like to donate time every week or can help for just a few hours, there’s a place for you at Second Harvest.