Exploring the Consequences of Food Desserts on American Communities
Consequences of Food Deserts on American Communities
There is a surplus of almost everything in our American economy, but, despite vast, collective economic wealth there are people who still live in “food deserts”. In 2021, over 10% of the American household population, or roughly 13.7 million people who suffer from food scarcity. The need for individuals and organizations to begin giving back to impoverished communities through broader reaching social work efforts is constant.
A food desert is a geographic location where the population has little to no access to healthy foods. These areas are typically associated with and connected to low-incomes — most often those places which have historically been subject to segregation and prejudices. Everyone who lives in these areas regardless of age, sex, or race, are all subject to a collection of consequences that impede children, families and communities to grow healthy.
Food deserts are generally located in neighborhoods with smaller populations, with high rates of abandoned and/or vacant homes, and high crime rates. Residents have lower levels of education, which creates extra hurdles to find good employment, and thus consistent lower income levels. That lack of education does not only empty people of further training toward better jobs, but also keeps them from public health educators who can teach the importance and necessity of basic nutrition.
There is a strikingly disproportionate level of food deserts connected to Black communities. It should be noted that, according to an article published in the National Library of Medicine, while racial housing segregation can contribute to poverty, it is hard to differentiate between segregated minority communities and basic poverty on a broad scale.
Generally speaking, the lack of availability to well stocked food stores has more often been studied in urban environments. Being that low-income families are most likely to not have access to consistent, reliable transportation there emerges a multiplication of challenges already present in accessing stores. Having to travel further distances requires more time and money, none of which are a luxury to low-income workers.
As such, within the United States, it is most often those persons who live in urban, low-income neighborhoods which are likely to suffer. According to the USDA, while 82% of people are in urban areas, but this does not exclude rural environments.
The lack of access to grocery stores, in comparison to convenience stores and gas stations, is a major problem. The latter two sell food items which focus on processed, sugary, high-fat, and salty foods. The resulting consequences of food deserts on the health of American communities are many.
Consequences of Food Deserts
Basic Nutrition is the foundation for all the consequences related to food deserts. A lack of full spectrum nutritional access has a degenerative effect on the health of persons trapped in food deserts. Chronic diseases are common in many forms from diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, cancer, and even mental health. All of these health problems can be exacerbated by the onset and continuation of obesity in the individual.
Obesity is very common in food deserts and, being that there is a high prevalence in intergenerational suffering, obesity and chronic diseases are passed through bloodlines. This cycle is very difficult to break without access to multiple counteractive measures like good nutrition, and medical care.
While malnutrition increases the likelihood and continuation of obesity, it can also have the inverse effect of lack of healthy body mass. This is especially true for pregnant and nursing mothers. Deficiencies in nutrients like iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, selenium and magnesium contribute to weaker immune systems. The results are tragic, not just for the women who are more susceptible to miscarriages, but on the children born. Birth defects are more common.
Lack of good nutrition due to living in these areas affects growing children most acutely considering that the primary development happens in the first decades of life. Brain development can suffer in combination with bodily development and in turn creates mental health complications.
What may be more immediately concerning is the reality that the people who live in these areas, while being no less immune to food allergies, have no alternative choices. Dairy, peanut, and gluten allergies, just to name a few, are nearly impossible to accommodate when the majority of foods these communities have to choose from don't provide healthy substitutes.
All of these contributing factors and their consequences create a plethora of challenges to overcome and as a result there is a great need for social work that focuses on the encouragement and development of food security. With combined efforts, persistence, and new regulations, food deserts themselves can begin to dry up.
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