Food deserts is a relatively new term used to describe low income areas with limited access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Families in these areas might have access to convenience stores or fast food restaurants but not to grocery stores or fresh food markets. Fried chicken and hamburgers might be plentiful, but fresh fruit and vegetables are not.
Not having easy access to healthy food can impact community health by increasing cases of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Fast food diets are high in sodium, fat, and calories and low in fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Clearly, living in a food desert can compound existing health issues and most likely cause more.
Birmingham is one of many cities in the United States where families face the issue of food deserts. According to a survey sponsored by Main Street Birmingham in cooperation with the Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group, the lack of access to healthy food is widespread in the city, with 88,000 Birmingham residents living in food deserts in 2010. This number includes 23,000 children.
What can be done to reverse this? Plenty! Here are just a few suggestions from the report:
- Support local, independent grocers and encourage them to sell fresh fruits and vegetables;
- Encourage local organizations to provide healthy options such as serving healthy snacks during meetings;
- Help mainstream grocers by improving access to stores with safe walkways, shuttles or vans;
- Improve food selections in vending machines by offering apples, carrots, low-fat yogurt, and 100% fruit juice;
- Look into healthier fast food options;
- Support urban gardens and farmer’s markets.
More information and ideas can be found by reading the report or by visiting The Urban Food Project website.
At this time, the Birmingham-Jefferson Food Policy Council is being formed with the goal of making fruit and vegetables more available to Birmingham city residents. The organization will work to involve members of the business, farming, government, and health communities to help improve food availability. The intent is to attract members who will be passionate about improving access to healthy food.
Interested in improving Birmingham’s food system? Apply for a spot on the Birmingham-Jefferson Food Policy Council today.
The articles written by Andrea Wenger, Birmingham Diets Examiner, are for informational purposes only and are not to be used in the place of medical advice. Please contact a licensed physician or other medical professional before changing any health care routine or before starting any diet, fitness, or exercise program. Although every effort has been made to include the most current information, new information is released daily and may cause some recommendations to change.