In hundreds of neighborhoods across the country, nutritious, affordable, and high quality food is out of reach. Residents of many urban low income communities of color walk outside their doors to find no grocery stores, farmers' markets, or other sources of fresh food. Instead they are bombarded by fast food and convenience stores selling high-fat, high-sugar, processed foods. Rural residents often face a different type of challenge—a lack of any nearby food options(Wang, et. al. 2012).
Without access to healthy foods, a nutritious diet and good health are out of reach. And without grocery stores and other fresh food retailers, communities are missing the commercial hubs that make neighborhoods livable, and help local economies thrive. For decades, community activists have organized around the lack of access to healthy foods as an economic, health, and social justice issue. As concerns grow over healthcare and the country's worsening obesity epidemic, “food deserts”—areas where there is little or no access to healthy and affordable food—have catapulted to the forefront of public policy discussions. Policymakers at the local, state, and national level have begun recognizing the role that access to healthy food plays in promoting healthy local economies, healthy neighborhoods, and healthy people.
Lack of supermarkets. A 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 23.5 million people lack access to a supermarket within a mile of their home. A recent multistate study found that lowincome census tracts had half as many supermarkets as wealthy tracts. Another multistate study found that eight percent of African Americans live in a tract with a supermarket, compared to 31 percent of whites. (Liu, et. al. 2011)
Lack of healthy, high quality foods in nearby food stores. In Detroit and New Haven, produce quality is lower in low-income communities of color compared to more affluent or racially mixed neighborhoods. In Albany, New York, 80 percent of nonwhite residents cannot find low-fat milk or high-fiber bread in their neighborhoods. And in Baltimore, 46 percent of lower-income neighborhoods have limited access to healthy food (based on a healthy food availability survey) compared to 13 percent of higher-income neighborhoods(Wang, et. al. 2012).
Lack of transportation access to stores. Residents in many urban areas (including Seattle, Central and South Los Angeles, and East Austin, Texas) have few transportation options to reach supermarkets. Inadequate transportation can be a major challenge for urban residents, given the long distances to stores. In Mississippi—which has the highest obesity rate of any state—over 70 percent of food stamp eligible households travel more than 30 miles to reach a supermarket (Andreyeva, et. al. 2012).
This has been a persistent problem for communities. Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, white, middleclass families left urban centers for homes in the suburbs, and supermarkets fled with them. Once they left the city, grocers adapted their operations to suit their new environs, building ever-larger stores and developing chain-wide contracts with large suppliers and distributors to stock the stores with ...