Urban food deserts
Published 21 February 2022 by Quitterie d’Harcourt
In connection to my previous blog on cars and their contribution to the obesity epidemic, I thought we could investigate the significance of urban food deserts which are prevalent in the USA but also present in numerous other countries around the world.
When examining dietary trends in communities, it is helpful to look at their proximity to nutritious dietary options. This is mainly because, according to emerging findings, “families living with food insecurity are more likely to have overweight or obese children” presumably due to the intake of low-cost, high-calorie food. (Bhargava, Jolliffe & Howard, 2008). For these communities that are remote from any healthy options, they are classified as “food deserts”. Food deserts are generally established by contrasting the number of food outlets and grower’s markets that sell fresh and healthy goods, to chain restaurants and corner shops that sell packaged foods heavy in salt and refined sugars (Congdon, 2019).
Researchers have found that nine percent of nutritional inequalities are attributable to food deserts (Allcott et al, 2017 as referenced in Karpyn et al., 2019). Food deserts are more likely to be present in low-income or ethnic minority communities (Congdon, 2019). This means, according to the USDA, that over 20m people in the United States “[live] in 6,529 food-desert communities” with inadequate accessibility to abundant, inexpensive, and nutritional food (Neff et al., 2019) (Karpyn et al., 2020).
How do we approach the issue of food deserts in order to eliminate them?
On a community scale, urban districts can use a variety of measures to improve food availability, eliminate food poverty, and endorse healthy dietary habits and activities. “Local markets, community gardens, surplus food sharing programs, and federal food assistance programs” are all great examples of approaches on a local level (Alex, 2021) (Dailee, 2020).
However, more needs to be done to alleviate food insecurity and ultimately avoid urban food deserts. Why? Because, in a nutshell, food deserts represent infrastructure exclusion in the same manner that urban inequality does. The layout of urban areas has a great impact on the presence of food deserts. With separated land-use types, limited connectedness (such as poor public transportation), excessive car reliance, and deterrents to travel actively, “low-density suburban [developments]” are increasingly likely to limit its inhabitants of making healthy choices with regards to both nutrition and physical activity (Gordon, 2019, pp.464). It is necessary to provide funding and encourage low-income households to consume healthier foods (Karpyn, et al. 2020). More mixed-use developments and improved public transportation, as well as non-profit supermarkets and dollar store regulations, are just some of the useful ways for low-income neighbourhoods to ensure equal access to healthy foods (Dailee, 2020). However, because food deserts are frequently the product of massive systemic challenges such as racism, considerable social, political, and legal changes are also required to allow food deserts to vanish (Alex, 2021).
– Alex, A. (2021) What Are Food Deserts? All You Need to Know. Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/food-deserts (accessed 21st February 2022)
– Bhargava, A., Jolliffe, D. & Howard, L. (2008) Socio-economic, behavioural and environmental factors predicted body weights and household food insecurity scores in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten. Br J Nutr., pp.438-444.
– Congdon, P. (2019) Obesity and Urban Environments. London: Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 16(3), pp.464.
– Dailee, A. (2020) 5 Solutions That Alleviate Food Insecurity in the U.S. Available at: https://heated.medium.com/5-solutions-that-alleviate-food-insecurity-in-the-u-s-767ba03fcb94 (accessed 21st February 2022)
– Karpyn, A., Riser, D., Tracy, T., Wang, R. & Shen, Y. (2020) The changing landscape of food deserts. UNSCN nutrition, 44, pp.46-53.
– Neff R., Palmer A., McKenzie S. & Lawrence R. (2009) Food Systems and Public Health Disparities. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 4(3–4), pp.282–314.