9 Cities Where Poor People Lack Access to Healthy Food


The lack of access to healthy food is increasing as the income gap continues to grow. Despite efforts such as the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign encouraging young people to eat healthy and exercise, why is this occurring?

While the First Lady’s program is well-intentioned, it does not address the problems faced by people who live in “food deserts.” A food desert is a city or town in which it is extremely difficult to buy fresh, healthful food. This difficulty is often coupled with racial and social inequality, as food deserts are mostly composed of African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and recent immigrants. While some level of this issue has to do with lack of supermarkets or the expense of healthy food, a great deal of it is about access to transportation. There is an unfortunate correlation between income, access to a car, and buying of healthy food. The new Food Access Research Atlas sponsored by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has information regarding food deserts easily accessible.

With this new, detailed map, it is easy to find which areas of the country are unable to easily reach a supermarket. Unfortunately, Paula Dutko, one of the food economists who dedicated her time to developing the atlas, suggested that there is no national data regarding public transportation, which would otherwise be helpful. 

While there are smaller towns across the United States that face this problem, such as Hyde, NC and Pushmataha, OK, there are greater cities in which certain areas are considered food areas. According to NewsOne, such cities include:

1. New Orleans, La.

Due to Hurricane Katrina, the number of grocery stores has reduced from 30 to 20, according to the Congressional Hunger Center. This means that one grocery store serves 16,000 people. The implications of these large numbers of people being serviced by a small number of grocery stores also results in people moving outside the community to find food.

2. Chicago, Ill.

The number of people who live in food deserts number 600,000. Unfortunately, one third of these people are children, who need the right nutrients to grow. It is also to be noted that in a typical black neighborhood in Chicago, the distance to a fast food restaurant is half that of the distance to the closest grocery store.

3. Atlanta, Ga.

Atlanta’s wealthier neighborhoods boast three times the number of grocery stores as its poorer neighborhoods. When examined racially, there are four times as many supermarkets in white neighborhoods as in black.

4. Memphis, Tenn.

Memphis is ranked #1 for hunger in the country; 26% of families said they could not afford to buy food for the past year. This impacts residents in both rural and urban areas.

5. Minneapolis, Minn.

Minnesota’s rate of obesity has now risen to one quarter, thanks to the fact that now 36% of local corner stores did not carry fresh produce. Here it is to be noted that that lower income groups are less mobile than higher income groups, suggesting that a “trip to the supermarket is costly and time consuming,” according to economist Robert King.

6. San Francisco, Calif.

In neighborhoods such as Bayview, Hunters Point, and Visitacion Valley, access to fresh produce is extremely difficult, resulting in residents traveling miles to find the nearest grocery store.  Twenty percent of the city’s population forsakes buying food in order to pay the bills, a tragic reminder of the price paid in poor neighborhoods.

7. Detroit, Mich.

Over 550,000 Detroit residents live in areas defined as food deserts and 70% of Detroiters are obese or overweight. As in Chicago, access to fast food is quicker than access to a grocery store.

8. New York, N.Y.

Harlem, the South Bronx, and parts of Brooklyn compose the food desert in what is considered the most cosmopolitan city in the country. A 2008 study has shown that as many as three million New Yorkers do not have access to fresh produce. Some of the underlying reasons for not setting up full-service supermarkets in these sections, according to Dr. Susanne Friedberg of Dartmouth University, include space constraints and rising rents.

9. Camden, N.J.

Camden only has one major supermarket on the city’s eastern border and a sporadic spread of farmer’s markets. Camden residents also lack mass transportation that would allow them to leave the city to find fresh produce, according to researchers.

Racial and social inequality has reared its ugly head in many fields, including college admissions and employment opportunities. Hopefully, as food deserts continue to be examined and documented, we can move forward to ensure that Americans have basic access to healthy, fresh produce and food.