How Many Food Deserts in America

Food deserts are areas where nutritious, healthy foods are hard to find. They often affect poor, minority communities and are linked to legacies of segregation and structural racism.

Eating in a food desert can have severe health consequences, from malnutrition to obesity and diabetes. But there are ways to remedy the problem.

What is a food desert?

Food deserts are geographic regions with low access to healthy and affordable foods like vegetables and fruits. These areas disproportionately affect low-income, urban and rural communities.

People in these regions are more likely to rely on fast-food restaurants and convenience stores for their groceries, which tend to be high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. This can lead to chronic diseases and reduced life expectancy.

Food deserts are more than just a problem for poor people. They’re a sign of overall inequality. They contribute to a vicious cycle, where low initial wealth causes businesses to stop investing in neighborhoods and residents, and the population gets poorer as time passes. Communities can tackle these issues with investments in local food production like community gardens and farmers markets, as well as by encouraging healthier eating habits. This can include subsidizing healthy food products to lower prices, taxing unhealthy foods, and spreading education about the pros and cons of certain diets.

Why do we have food deserts?

Several factors contribute to food deserts, including poverty and lack of access to jobs that pay enough for healthy foods. In addition, many people living in food deserts are far from supermarkets and rely instead on small corner stores that prioritize microwavable meals, junk food and processed items such as snack cakes, chips and soda.

These food sources may also be pricier than the healthier options found in grocery stores, making it even harder for those who live in food deserts to afford healthy diets. In addition, some food deserts are rife with boarded-up or vacant homes, which can impede local economies and make it difficult for retail businesses to open nearby.

Despite these obstacles, many communities are able to increase healthy food availability by establishing community gardens and farmers’ markets, as well as by promoting small, locally owned stores. Unfortunately, these strategies are often overlooked in traditional food access mapping. As such, a holistic approach to solving the issue of food deserts is needed.

How do we fix food deserts?

The problem of food deserts is complex, and there are many ways that people can help. One way is to call or email your local lawmakers and ask them to support solutions that would make healthy, affordable foods more available in their area.

Another way to help is to volunteer with organizations that distribute or provide fresh, nutritious foods. There are many ways to do this, from working at a food bank or community garden to helping out at a local supermarket.

Finally, you can help by avoiding wasteful behaviors that contribute to the problem of food deserts. This includes throwing away spoiled or overly-expensive foods, purchasing foods that you don’t need and can’t eat before they expire, and not using a whole bag of something you bought just to get the one piece you wanted. You can also cut down on food waste by freezing or repurposing leftovers, buying in season and locally produced foods, and eating fewer processed foods and sugary drinks.

What can we do about food deserts?

Depending on how you measure it, up to 17.4% of Americans live in food deserts. It’s a huge problem that affects the health of entire communities. Food deserts are defined by the USDA as low-income neighborhoods that lack easy access to supermarkets or large grocery stores. They also exclude dollar and convenience stores, military commissaries, and some farmers’ markets.

These areas are often located in urban or rural communities where low income families struggle to make ends meet. They are also more likely to be populated by people of color and are at higher risk for poverty and poor diets.

The solution to food deserts is not simply putting more grocery stores in these communities, but rather addressing the root causes of food inequality and educating consumers on healthy eating. The good news is that it is possible to eat healthy in these areas, even without a local supermarket, by using your local community garden, starting a co-op with other neighborhood residents and learning how to can or preserve foods.

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