Have you ever heard of a food desert? It’s an area of the country that has limited access to fresh, healthy foods.
As you can imagine, this type of area is particularly detrimental to people’s health and well-being.
Let’s take a deeper look into food deserts and some of the statistics surrounding this troubling issue.
What Populations Are Most Affected by Food Deserts?
A food desert is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as an area where at least 33% of the population lives more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (or 10 miles in rural areas).
This lack of access to fresh foods means that many people are forced to rely on convenience stores, gas stations, and fast-food restaurants for their meals—which generally don’t offer many healthy options.
Low-income populations tend to be disproportionately affected by food deserts. Low-income households often lack the resources to buy nutrient-dense foods and rely instead on cheaper, processed options with fewer vitamins and minerals.
As a result, these populations often suffer from higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases—all of which can lead to increased healthcare costs down the line.
Food deserts are particularly common in urban areas due to their high concentration of low-income residents and limited grocery store access. In many cases, large grocery stores will not open in urban neighborhoods due to safety concerns or lack of profits.
This leaves many urban residents with little choice but to rely on convenience stores for their groceries—which typically do not carry fresh produce or other healthy items such as lean proteins or whole grains.
And while food deserts are more commonly associated with urban settings, they also exist in rural areas—particularly those with lower population densities. In rural areas, transportation can be a major issue when it comes to accessing healthy foods. Many families simply cannot afford cars or may live too far away from grocery stores for walking or biking to be feasible options.
Food Desert Statistics – Highlights
- About 1 in 4 Native Americans experiences food insecurity, compared to 1 in 9 Americans overall and 1 in 12 white or non-Hispanic individuals.
- 100% of US counties have some level of food insecurity.
- Milk prices in food deserts tend to be 5% higher and cereal prices 25% higher.
- Food deserts may be underreported because the North American Industry Classification System places small corner stores (which sell primarily packaged and processed food) in the same category as major grocery stores like Whole Foods.
- More than 34 million people, including 9 million children, in America are food insecure.
About 1 in 4 Native Americans experiences food insecurity, compared to 1 in 9 Americans overall and 1 in 12 white or non-Hispanic individuals.
Source: Feeding America
Native American reservations have long faced economic hardship due to limited access to resources and job opportunities. This lack of resources has caused an increase in the cost of goods and services, including food.
In addition to higher prices, there are fewer options for fresh produce and healthy foods on reservations compared to other areas within the same state. In some cases, people living on reservations must travel up to two hours one way just for grocery shopping trips! This means higher transportation costs which only add to their already high grocery bills.
Of the 28 counties in the United States that are majority Native American, 18 of them are considered food deserts.
Source: Feeding America
Of the 28 counties in the United States that are majority Native American, 18 of them are considered food deserts. This means that these areas don’t have access to fresh foods and groceries due to their remote location and lack of transportation options, making it difficult for these communities to get healthy meals.
Food costs more on Native American reservations – a loaf of bread is, on average 66 cents more, while a pound of ground beef costs 84 cents more.
Source: Native Partnership
This is due to the fact that many reservations lack large supermarkets – meaning there is no competition for prices – which leads to higher prices for essential food items. This has an especially large impact on families who are already struggling financially due to poverty and unemployment being so prevalent in many Native American communities.
Black neighborhoods are more than twice as likely as majority-White neighborhoods to not have a supermarket or grocery store.
Even when stores do exist in these areas, they often don’t stock fresh produce or other healthy food options due to high costs and limited availability from suppliers. This leads many people living in these communities to rely on convenience stores for their groceries, which typically offer less-than-ideal meal choices at higher prices than larger stores like Walmart or Target.
An estimated 39 million people, nearly 13%, of the US population, live in “low-income” or “low-access” areas, also known as food deserts.
Food insecurity is an ongoing problem in the United States that many people are aware of, but few understand. In reality, this is an issue that affects all of us, and deserves our attention.
100% of US counties have some level of food insecurity.
Source: Feeding America
Food insecurity affects millions of Americans each day, especially those living in food deserts who have limited access to healthy foods at affordable prices. We must all do our part to fight against this heartbreaking reality in order to create real change for our communities and our country at large.
Milk prices in food deserts tend to be 5% higher and cereal prices 25% higher.
Recent studies have shown that milk prices in food deserts tend to be 5% higher and cereal prices 25% higher than other areas. This means that when people living in food deserts buy groceries, they’re paying more for them.
These higher prices can create an economic barrier that prevents families from accessing healthy and affordable groceries, thereby contributing to the cycle of poverty.
Food deserts may be underreported because the North AMerican Industry Classification System places small corner stores (which sell primarily packaged and processed food) in the same category as major grocery stores like Whole Foods.
Source: Do Something
This means that many small stores are counted as grocery stores when they really aren’t, which leads to an underestimation of how many people live in food deserts. This results in a lack of attention being paid to these communities’ needs, leading to fewer resources being allocated towards helping them access fresh foods and produce.
More than 34 million people, including 9 million children, in America are food insecure.
Source: Feeding America
Food insecurity can have devastating effects on individuals’ health, both physically and mentally. Studies have linked childhood hunger with poorer academic performance, reduced cognitive functioning, mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and even increased rates of hospitalization for chronic illnesses such as asthma and diabetes.
Having access to healthy foods is essential for staying healthy; without it, individuals cannot maintain their physical or mental well-being over time.
Jefferson County, Mississippi, is considered the most food insecure country in America. Accessibility is a major issue.
Source: Social Policy Lab
According to research conducted by Social Policy Lab, Jefferson County in Mississippi is often cited as being the most food-insecure county in America. Accessibility is a major issue here, as many residents lack reliable transportation or may live too far away from grocery stores or other sources of fresh and nutritious food.
Living in a food desert does not cause obesity directly, but it makes it more likely.
Source: Washington Post
This is due to the fact that these areas generally lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables and often only have convenience stores that primarily carry processed foods high in sugar and saturated fats.
8 out of 10 counties with the highest food insecurity rates are at least 60% Black, with 7 of those 10 located in Mississippi along the Mississippi River.
Source: Feeding America
This statistic emphasizes the widespread racial disparities in food insecurity rates, with Black communities being disproportionately affected. Poverty and limited access to fresh, healthy food often contribute to poor dietary habits and diet-related illnesses in these communities. Challenges such as poor transportation, limited grocery stores, and higher levels of unemployment further exacerbate the issue.
The New Markets Tax Credit has helped fund the creation of more than 300 supermarkets in food desserts over recent years.
Source: NMT Coalition
Food deserts are areas where people have limited access to affordable, nutritious food because of the absence of supermarkets or grocery stores within accessible distance. These new supermarkets help fill the gap in access to fresh, affordable food options, which are essential in promoting healthier eating habits and improving overall food security.
Final Thoughts: Food Desert Statistics
Food deserts can have lasting health consequences for those who live in them due to lack of access to nutritious foods—especially during times like these when so many Americans are struggling financially as a result of COVID-19-related job losses and income insecurity.
These statistics paint a stark picture of how food deserts disproportionately affect communities in need; if we want everyone to have equal access to healthy meals, then it’s important we understand these alarming facts so we can take meaningful action against this serious issue going forward.