Will Expanding Healthy Food Retail Alone Solve Food Deserts?

November 16, 2012 at 11:05 am

Food deserts, as covered in an earlier blog post here, are areas of the nation that do not have sufficient access to retailers that sell healthy food options.  They have been researched and mapped by the USDA Economic Research  Service.  The overwhelming response was that this had become a larger and more severe issue than anyone had expected, and that something needed to be done.

Many CDFIs answered the call, and started nationally renowned programs to combat food deserts.  The most lauded and popular programs have been mainly headed in Pennsylvania. (For examples see articles here or here).  The main commonality of these programs is that they are community driven, retail centered solutions that coordinate access with education and other wealth creating programs.  The question now is why are these programs so successful, when compared to other options, and how can these models be replicated?

This month, Choices Magazine added some analysis to the issue.  An article published in their recent 2012 Third Quarter issue addresses consumer behavior after the reintroduction of healthy foods into long-term food deserts. The study focused on a neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan, which has had a trouble accessing healthy foods since 1969. What they found was there were larger impediments to accessing healthy foods than just the travel to get there. While they found that individuals were interested in purchasing healthy foods, they found that there were additional barriers to them purchasing the food.  These barriers included income limitations, lack of access to a vehicle, cooking facilities, food storage systems, or utilities.  

This study emphasizes that food deserts are a systematic issue, that is interrelated to the community and generational wealth of an area.  Many individuals lack the ability to store or prepare healthy foods, leaving them unable to participate in the market even if it accessible.  This is a creates an excellent argument for why community-based programs like those in Pennsylvania have been so successful, as they are able to combat community wealth issues at the same time that they are increasing access to healthy food.

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Entry filed under: CDFI, Healthy Foods.

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