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Why it Takes More Than a Grocery Store to Eliminate a ‘Food Desert’

Why it Takes More Than a Grocery Store to Eliminate a ‘Food Desert’

A new study reveals that simply increasing access to food in underserved areas may not be enough to change the diet and health of those who live there.

“Our goal is ambitious. It’s to eliminate food deserts in America completely in seven years.”

Michelle Obama spoke these words almost four years ago to students at Philadelphia’s Fairhill Elementary School, as part of her Let’s Move! campaign to end childhood obesity in the United States. But the topic of her speech went beyond the issues of child health and nutrition to focus on a related — and just as critical — issue: 23.5 million Americans live in areas without supermarkets or other places where they can access fresh, nutritious foods. To change the situation in these areas — known as “food deserts” — Mrs. Obama called for action.

Health Affairs“This is happening all across the country. We’re setting people up for failure if we don’t fix this.”

Fast forward to 2014, though, and the problem of food deserts — and their effect on diet and health — still persists. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has mapped thousands of locations across the country where residents continue to live in low-income, low-access areas. Those who live in these areas are often subject to poor diets as a result, and are at a greater risk of becoming obese or developing chronic diseases.