Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food

Food deserts give a new meaning to the phrase, “You are what you eat.” A more accurate version might read, “You are not what you eat, but what you can find to eat.” Many households in impoverished communities are living in a nutritional brownfield with access only to fast food restaurants and convenience stores rather than grocery stores or supermarkets. Even with knowledge of good nutrition, most people living in these food deserts also lack of transportation to get to a better-stocked grocery store.

According to the USDA, about 10% of the 65,000 census tracts in the U.S., with a population of approximately 13.5 million people live in areas that offer no access to healthy food options. Census tracts are considered food deserts if 500 people or 33% of the tract’s population live more than a mile from a supermarket in an urban areas or more than 10 miles in rural areas.

Researchers, policy makers, and local community organizations seeking to change food deserts into food oases by bringing food trucks to these locations, developing urban farms and/or community gardens on city-owned vacant lots, or attracting new supermarkets can use the USDA’s recently launched Internet-based Food Desert Locator mapping tool to identify U.S. food deserts.

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Author: Nandhini Gulasingam

Nandhini Gulasingam is a Senior Analyst for IT Solutions at the Social Science Research Center (SSRC) where she manages GIS, database, web development projects for the SSRC and is developing data visualization techniques for use in the social and behavioral sciences. She is also an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Geography where she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

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