One in seven people in the U.S. are food insecure and in need of food assistance. This translates into 46.5 million people, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors. Some of the drivers of food insecurity include low wages, underemployment and unemployment according to Feed America.
One of the prevailing coping strategies of food insecurity is to turn to low-cost, fast food options especially for households with children. Eighty-four percent of food insecure households with children report this strategy. Excessive fast food consumption has been linked to negative health outcomes like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Food banks like the kind operated by Feed America can only do so much to alleviate the problem of food insecurity in America. Local access to affordable, healthy groceries that include fruits and vegetables is a huge problem especially in low-income neighborhoods. According to the USDA, 13.6 million Americans have low access to grocery stores.
This problem is acute enough that USDA term, food deserts, has been coined to define it:
“Urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.”
In NYC, the CUNY School of Public Health, pays close attention to low-income neighborhoods and their access to fresh food. When neighborhoods go without affordable fresh food options, their residents often turn to low-cost, fast food options.
One recent example is the closure of an East Harlem Pathmark which was estimated by the School of Public Health to serve 30,000 customers. East Harlem already has the highest rate of diet-related diseases so the closure of this store put the issue in the spotlight.
CUNY Public Health Professor, Nick Freudenberg, called the area a “food swamp” because it is has so few affordable, fresh food options. Now it will have one less.