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A higher prevalence of chronic diseases may be linked to ‘food deserts’

December 4, 2013

Residents of an urban community, which has no grocery store offering a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, have much higher rates of diabetes and hypertension, reports a new US study.

The study examined the potential health impact of having no full-service grocery store, selling fresh, healthy, and affordable food, available in the neighborhood in a low-income US community (1). The community had 11 convenience stores of which only one sold (relatively expensive) fresh fruits and vegetables. Traveling to the closest full-service grocery stores took 30 to 45 minutes each way. The study results showed that the residents of the community had much higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and strokes, and had a higher hospitalization rate and more frequent visits to the emergency room, compared to other county residents. The residents demonstrated a need not only for a grocery store, but for nutritional education about healthy food, particularly for men who tended to purchase fewer healthy foods than women.

The researchers commented that living in a “food desert” with a lack of access to fresh, healthy vitamin-rich food can contribute to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of diet-related chronic diseases. The US gov- ernment defines a “food desert” as a census tract with a substantial share of residents who live in low-inco- me areas that have low levels of access to a grocery store or a healthy, affordable food retail outlet. Accord- ing to a report prepared for Congress by the Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agricult- ure, about 2.3 million people (or 2.2% of all US households) live more than one mile away from a super- market and do not own a car (2). Food deserts have also been identified in many European urban and rural areas (3).

References

  1. Stone C. L. et al. Health impact assessment of the development of a full service grocery store within an urban food desert. Presented at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting in Boston, November 2013.
  2. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences. 2009.
  3. Cummins S. and Macintyre S. The location of food stores in urban areas: a case study in Glasgow. British Food Journal. 1999; 101(7):545–553.