Gaining a Better Understanding of ‘Food Deserts’

Lawyer Andy Weisbecker recently posted an opinion piece in Food Safety News in which he discusses the problem of limited access to healthy food and its contribution to the burden of obesity and diet-related disease.

The term “food desert” refers to a location-generally, a low-income neighborhood-from which residents must travel twice as far as those living in wealthier neighborhoods to reach the nearest supermarket.

As Weisbecker points out, awareness is growing that people who live in food deserts face “significant obstacles to the purchase and consumption of affordable healthy food.” It is often easier for these people to purchase meals from fast food establishments and corner stores than it is for them to shop at supermarkets or large grocery stores.

While the negative health effects of fast food are generally well understood, the obstacles created by small local grocery or convenience stores are perhaps less intuitive. These establishments often lack a selection of nutritious food and are more expensive than supermarkets and large grocery stores. Even when they do offer healthier options such as fruit, vegetables and milk, these items are often of lower quality than their counterparts in large grocery stores: a study conducted in Philadelphia found higher microbial indicator counts in these items in low-income markets than in comparable items in higher-income area markets.

Results of a year-long study conducted by the US Department of Agriculture in 2008 linked distance between dwelling and supermarket, along with poor transportation, with limited access to affordable nutritious food. According to this study, food access-related problems affect almost 6 percent of all households in the United States. This translates to an estimated 23.5 million people, including 6.5 million children, who live in low-income neighborhoods more than a mile from a supermarket. Read More >

Will Taxing High Fructose Corn Syrup Fight Obesity?

Timing could be better considering the latest warnings of sugar shortages and price spikes by U.S. food manufacturers, but at least one public health communications and marketing researcher believes a tax on high fructose corn syrup could help in the fight against America’s obesity epidemic. I caught up with Dr. R. Craig Lefebvre, a professor at George Washington University School of Public Health’s Department of Prevention and Community Health, in Atlanta this week after he took part in a panel discussion at the CDC’s National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media. Dr. Lefebvre suggested that directly taxing consumers who buy sugary drinks or foods would be much more regressive than taxing manufacturers who use high fructose corn syrup. His argument: while producers may want to pass on the higher costs to their customers, market pressures may force them to come up with ways to reduce their dependence on high fructose corn syrup without raising prices. What do you think of Dr. Lefebvre’s proposal?

What Would Brian Roberts Eat?

An alarming trend will be making an appearance at many of America’s baseball parks on Opening Day this year. Along with the usual festivities synonymous with this rite of Spring-the first pitch of the season, the crack of the bat, kids sitting in the stands with glove in hand, hoping to catch a foul ball-comes the prospect of a not-so-obvious threat to our nation’s health: the compounding of our already out-of-control obesity epidemic. And the marketing geniuses behind America’s big league parks are the culprit. In their quest to fill empty seats of under performing teams, they have embraced a new tool: offering unlimited food and drink for a price. At most participating parks, fans paying an extra premium can consume unlimited hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, soda and water. (Beer and desserts are extra).

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