Food Deserts in the land of plenty

One of Michelle Obama’s goals is to eliminate food deserts as a way to reduce the prevalence of obesity in the United States.

Food desert is a relatively new term used to describe low-income areas with limited access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Families in these areas might have access to convenience stores or fast food restaurants but not to grocery stores or fresh food markets. Fried chicken and hamburgers are often plentiful, but fresh fruit and vegetables are not.

Not having easy access to healthy food can impact community health by increasing cases of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Fast food diets are high in sodium, fat, and calories and low in fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Clearly, living in a food desert can compound existing health issues and most likely cause more.

Birmingham, Alabama is just one of many cities in the United States where families face the issue of food deserts. According to a survey sponsored by Main Street Birmingham in cooperation with the Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group, the lack of access to healthy food is widespread in the city, with 88,000 Birmingham residents living in food deserts in 2010. This number includes 23,000 children.

What can be done to reverse this? Plenty! Here are just a few suggestions from the survey:

  • Support local, independent grocers and encourage them to sell fresh fruits and vegetables;
  • Encourage local organizations to provide healthy options such as serving healthy snacks during meetings;
  • Help mainstream grocers by improving access to stores with safe walkways, shuttles or vans;
  • Improve food selections in vending machines by offering apples, carrots, low-fat yogurt, and 100% fruit juice;
  • Look into healthier fast food options;
  • Support urban gardens and farmer’s markets.

In fact, these are worthwhile suggestions for improving nutrition in any neighborhood.

More information and ideas can be found by visiting The Urban Food Project website.

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