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Food deserts: Do they exist in the U.S.?

Food deserts: Do they exist in the U.S.?

When speaking of food deserts, areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet, many would be surprised to learn that there are Americans who lack sufficient access to such resources.  Research has shown that increasing rates of obesity and related chronic disease may be more severe in certain low-income American communities because of limited access to affordable and nutritious foods.   These communities are often over served by fast food chain restaurants and convenience stores, which do not provide the essentials of a healthy diet.

Congress conducted a 1-year study under the Food, Nutrition and Conservation Act of 2008, a study focusing on families with children and areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food.  The study found that,“In 2007…15.8 percent of households with children were food insecure at some time during the year.”

While 15.8 percent may not seem like a large percentage on a grand scale, it is an indicator that the problem of adequate access to healthy foods is not available to all Americans.  In order to combat food deserts, there needs to be viable and sustainable options for those who lack adequate access to healthy foods. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designed food and nutrition assistance programs to improve access to food by providing low income households with access to healthy foods, as well as educating communities on how to lead a healthy lifestyle. Programs by the USDA to achieve this include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as the Healthy Incentives Pilot program.

New York City has utilized successful examples of local and community-based solutions to food desserts that can be replicated elsewhere. These include outdoor and/or indoor farmers markets which sell fresh produce, meat products, fruit and vegetables in vulnerable areas. New York City distributes $2.00 Health Bucks vouchers, which can be used to purchase fresh fruits & vegetables at participating farmers markets. Farmers markets have also begun to accept Food Stamps administered by the USDA to eligible low-income families. This provides financial relief, and broadens the access and options of residents of food deserts. The NYC Green Cart initiative sends out mobile food carts that “aim to increase availability of fresh fruit and vegetables in New York City neighborhoods so that more New Yorkers can buy fresh fruit and vegetables close to home.”  Other viable options include Community Supported Agriculture and Urban Farming.

Successful eradication of food deserts is possible. All Americans should have proper access to resources that would allow for a healthy and nutritious lifestyle and close the 15.8 percent gap that currently exists. Through successful implementation of programs and initiatives, it is the hope of many that food deserts will no longer be an issue that plagues America by any degree.

Posted by Nadja Boncouer.

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