Food Topics Health Trends

No Food in Sight:  What is a Food Desert, and Does it Matter?

What is this “food desert,” and why does it matter in nutrition?

Man, isn’t life great when it throws you one of several events to prevent you from doing your hobby?  Just fucking peachy…

Anyway, this is an important issue to talk about in the realm of food and nutrition.  It’s pretty common knowledge that fruits and vegetables are incredibly healthy.  However, they only benefit you if you can eat them.  So, what if it was incredibly difficult to eat them?

Food deserts are a term defined by the USDA as an area that the citizens have low income, and limited access to supermarkets or grocery stores that sell fresh fruits and vegetables.  To determine this, the area needs at least 500 people, and a third of these people must live about one mile (ten miles for rural populations) from the nearest grocery store.  So why does this matter?  Well, it has been shown that there is a correlation between food deserts and obesity in children and adults, lower produce consumption, and higher processed food consumption.  One study found that poorer diets in low income participants were associated with convenience stores.

However, there are some opponents to this idea, citing research showing that there is no correlation between fast food availability and consumption, and that opening new supermarkets did not change dietary patterns in children.  The USDA definition also does not take into account smaller grocery stores.  Many people also have access to automobiles, meaning the one-mile radius might be too small.  It also does not account for proximity to peoples’ work locations, or schools, or any other area that people might go to that could be closer to a grocery store.

My opinion on the matter is that food deserts are a mixed bag.  On one hand, there is a greater health disparity in these areas, but when locations with healthier food are added, consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables does not improve.  One thing that did not come up was routine and price might still be major factors.  If the parents of the children in the one study could still not afford to eat healthy, then fast and cheap food is still their only option.  If they also got used to eating unhealthy, they might be also less likely to start eating healthy.

So, what do you guys think?  Do food deserts matter in the long run?

By The Nutrition Punk

I am a dietitian living in Portland, Oregon. I write about a variety of nutrition and heath topics, with the goal of improving people's understanding of food and nutrition so they may be empowered against all the misinformation that is out there.

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