Photo via Pixabay by Dapedwa

A food desert is a geographic area that is devoid of healthy food options, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, within a reasonable or accessible distance.  Food deserts can be found in rural areas or urban areas.  The problem is compounded in urban areas where there are small corner markets where people shop out of convenience, that do not offer healthy food options. 

Food desert areas that are heavily serviced by local convenience stores are more prone to have residents that contribute to the national obesity epidemic.  Food options in these areas are limited to what their residents can afford and the abundance of processed and sugar-filled foods that the local stores provide.  Type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity, has been on the rise nationally and found to be more prevalent in these areas. 

People living in food deserts also have difficulty finding foods that meet their culture standards or dietary restrictions, such as food allergies or lactose intolerance.  The corner markets just do not have the necessary variety that bigger supermarkets offer.

These corner markets may also offer processed and fatty foods at much lower prices than healthier alternatives.  This can make it much more difficult for low-income families to consistently eat healthy meals. 

Awareness of the problem with food deserts is on the rise due to efforts of entrepreneurs, government officials, and community activists committed to getting healthy food to more people.  Different options and methods have been discussed and deployed in many areas, but much work still needs to be done. 

Accessibility was the major issue focused on for many years.  Former First Lady, Michelle Obama, promoted her Let’s Move! Initiative to end childhood obesity, which also focused on trying to get bigger supermarkets to move into food deserts.  Tax incentives and other programs have helped get supermarkets built in areas where they were previously lacking. 

Unfortunately, providing better places to shop alone did not fix the problem.  It was found that many urban residents did not completely abandon shopping at their neighborhood mini-marts due to familiarity and habit.  Over time some residents make the switch, but there are more complex issues at the root of the problem

Moving big supermarkets into these neighborhoods is not motivation enough for people to shop for and eat healthier food.  Better health education programs may need to be introduced to teach people the necessary skills for buying and preparing better meals before they will completely overhaul their shopping and eating habits. 

Volunteer groups like Gather Baltimore are trying to get more personal and make a change.  They collect food from places with an over abundance of food that might otherwise go to waste, like local farms, produce distributors, and farmer’s markets.  They then deliver it to families in need within the food deserts.  Other non-profits go to local mini-marts to teach owners and employees to buy, store, and market fresh produce for their neighborhood residents. 

Other organizations, such as Veggie Van, will pick up fresh produce and deliver it for a reasonable price.  They deliver to elderly and any other people who have a hard time getting to places that sell healthy food.

Food deserts are a problem that are not going to be alleviated easily, but with more awareness and current community, government, and corporate assistance, things can get better.