American Food Deserts

Today is Sunday and as usual I was running low on food. Conveniently, Sunday also tends to be the day that I am able to go grocery shopping. So I made the simple decision to get dressed, grab my keys and head to Whole Foods. I live in Worcester and the nearest Whole Foods is in Framingham about 40 minutes away. I had plenty of time to think about food during the long car ride and at first I felt annoyed that there is no Whole Foods in Worcester. I know that the food there is expensive, but I really think that it is worth it to pay a little extra to make sure that you are getting great quality food. And then I thought more about how many Whole Foods are in the country in general. This is what I found.

I know this map may seem cluttered, but notice how huge sections of the country are missing a Whole Foods location. I am not suggesting that Whole Foods locations are the only measure of nutritional value access, but this figure hints at a broader issue.

Throughout the country, there are many places that are located 20, 30 miles or even further from the nearest grocery store. People living here need to drive upwards of a half hour to shop for food! I know that on a hot summer day like today I worry on my 40 minute drive that my food may not all last in the car, but imagine what it is like to have no other choice. Not to mention that in some of these areas, many people also do not have car access. In such areas, sometimes the only possible sources of food are found at gas stations and convenience stores that are usually stocked with expensive snacks and few healthy options.

These areas are known as food deserts. Most people that I know cannot imagine that this is possible because Massachusetts is so densely populated that most people need to travel no more than 3 or 4 miles to the nearest grocery store. But here is a map of the United States from the US Department of Agriculture showing areas formally designated as food deserts. 

Areas highlighted in green represent food deserts. Notice how the two maps compare. Areas with Whole Foods Markets tend to be far away from designated food deserts. And again notice that in New England there are almost no food deserts compared to most other parts of the country. The more rural the area, the more likely that residents do not have access to supermarkets. This has dramatic implications when it comes to obesity, diabetes and just health in general. 

Stay tuned for a post about how access to food options is an important factor in reducing obesity rates.