Defining and Addressing Food Deserts

Do you or your loved one find it difficult to find fresh, healthy foods like fruits and vegetables? You may live in a food desert. If this term is new or confusing to you, consider these facts:

Factors that Contribute to Food Deserts

Distance: In some places, healthy options are not easily accessed because grocery stores are too far away. With grocery stores 10 or 20 miles away, individuals purchase a larger proportion of their meals from fast-food restaurants or convenience stores. At these places, most food items are highly processed and have lower nutritional value.

Transportation: For some individuals, especially older adults, healthy food may be available at nearby stores, but not accessible. This may be the case if there is limited public transportation or if the senior does not have car or does not drive. For these individuals 5 miles is not much different from 20 miles. For seniors that live even less than a mile from a grocery store, it can still be inaccessible if there are no sidewalks, if neighborhood crime is a concern, or if a disability prevents someone from walking that far.

Affordability: It is important to understand that even if an individual has access to a grocery store, they may have limited ability to purchase the healthy options if the healthy options are drastically more expensive than the alternative less healthy options. If there are only a few dollars left after paying for housing and transportation costs, a senior may choose to purchase a hamburger rather than a salad if the salad is more expensive.

Addressing Food Deserts

Fresh Foods in the Community (Farmers’ markets) Bringing farmers’ markets to lower income or isolated areas is one strategy to alleviate the problems caused by food deserts. Farmers' markets allow local farmers an opportunity to sell their fresh produce and allow community members to buy them at prices lower than or comparable to grocery stores. Consider checking if there is a local farmers' market in your community.

Promote Healthy Eating There are individuals that argue that increased availability and lower costs is not enough. To convince people, especially older adults, to trade in their easy to access, inexpensive, tasty food for healthier options may require convincing. It may be beneficial for you to educate your loved one about the components of a healthy diet and the reasons why spending the extra time and money to eat healthier is worth it. Check out our resources on nutrition to learn more.