Malnutrition is not caused solely by the lack of food on the table. 

There is no food shortage problem in America. In fact, small, and large-scale local farms across the US produce tons of fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, and other foods with high nutrient values.

Households in the underserved regions tend to serve their families stomach-filling and irrefutably cheaper food that is high in sugar, carbohydrates and harmful seed oil based industrial fats. As a consequence, everyone is inflamed, and unhealthy sick people continue to put an additional burden on themselves, their families and the community.

Malnutrition is not caused solely by the lack of food on the table. It is the result of the failure to access and consume affordable healthy foods.

The never ending cycle is quite vicious; and there seems to be nothing we can do. Yet that is not so.

The "food deserts" and "food swamps" of Southern California

In the recent years, the definition of "food desert" expanded to include more than simply physical access to a supermarket. Today, food desert means an area that's physically without access to fresh foods, is underserved by food retailers due to limited economic power, and lack of public education on what's healthy local grown, fresh food and what is unhealthy toxic food.

Experts trace the accessibility problem to the 1970s, when white, middle-class families fled cities for suburbs, bringing supermarket chains and independent natural grocers along with them. For people who stayed behind, few if any groceries remained within walking distance. Rural areas with faltering economies experienced similar depletion, and for many rural dwellers without cars, accessing healthy food became a significant chore.

 

Meanwhile, fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, and other sources of cheap, processed food opportunistically moved in, turning these regions into "food swamp."

The term "food desert" was first coined during the mid-1990s in the U.K. when folks moved from urban centers to suburbs, leaving behind large numbers of underserved people without easy access to fresh foods. Food deserts are defined as communities of underserved urban and rural neighborhoods where the nearest supermarket is more than several miles away and where access to affordable and quality foods is limited.

Today, according to the USDA, nearly 24 million people live in so-called "food deserts" with extremely limited access to healthy food.

 

A new PolicyLink report shows that underserved urban neighborhoods with high minority populations have the least availability while—not surprisingly—white, college-educated, high-income neighborhoods have the greatest.

The "food desert" areas are manifested in following forms: 

  • Commercial corridors throughout the "food desert" areas are usually dominated by unhealthy fast food restaurants. Such thoroughfares with a high-density of establishments selling high-calorie, carb loaded fast and/or junk food, relative to healthier food options, are characterized as "food swamps."

  • Mainstream grocery stores in the "food desert" areas are rare. When they are present, the quality of the food is poor and the prices high.

  • Specialty and health food stores in the "food desert" areas are literally non-existing.

  • The "food desert" areas are overrun with liquor stores and other small "convenience stores." Another public health concerns related to substance abuse and addiction.

  • Only a few convenience stores in the "food desert" areas sell fresh food at all; if they do have fresh items, the selection is limited, quality poor and prices are high.

The presence of a "food swamps" is an equally strong predictor of obesity rates as the absence of full-service grocery stores.

The neighborhoods surrounding the Compton Blvd in Compton, CA, home of the Chamber, is great example of both a "food desert" and "food swamp." The area services the food needs of the entire city center.

"Food deserts" are not the only problem.

The USDA Food Environment Atlas, American Community Survey and the Retail Food Environment Index merge the type of food outlets, socio-demographic and obesity data in order to categorize food environments as "food swamps" and "food deserts."

 

Research studies suggest that the presence of a "food swamps" is an equally strong predictor of obesity rates as the absence of full-service grocery stores. Based on the findings, local government policies such as zoning laws simultaneously restricting access to unhealthy food outlets and incentivizing healthy food retailers to locate in underserved neighborhoods warrant consideration as strategies to increase health equity.

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