Deserts Deserts Everywhere

Aug 9, 2011
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Chevelle Glymph COG Health and Substance Abuse Programs Chief

If you were to ask most Americans what a ‘Healthy Community’ means to them some responses would be: a safe place filled with whole fresh food plenty of exercise and free of disease. Unfortunately many communities across the nation—including some in our metro Washington region—lack these important healthy attributes.

In recent years the term food desert has become a new topic and word du jour for many current urban dwellers. So what is this thing and how does it affect my overall quality of life?

Many health reports talk about the epidemic of obesity specifically childhood obesity in the United States. These findings are coupled with the increase of many secondary illnesses such as heart disease high blood pressure and diabetes.

Desert Mirage: Healthy quality food is to an urban dweller as water is to a desert resident. They are desired and imagined by inhabitants often seen as a horizon mirage but difficult to locate in reality. According to the 2008 Farm Bill a food desert is an “area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food particularly such an area is composed of predominantly lower income neighbors and communities.” A new website from the United States Department of Agriculture shows that 10% of the country is now a food desert.

Recently First Lady Michelle Obama along with corporate executives from Walmart Walgreens SuperValu and smaller regional market chains announced a new initiative to support the Lets Move! Campaign one in which the corporate chains have agreed to open or expand 1500 stores in underserved communities-food deserts to make healthier and more affordable options available to more than 9.5 million customers. This initiative has the potential to improve the health outcomes and benefits of food deserts and these new stores can also positively impact depressed communities with the creation of jobs.

We must look at how we can remove the mirages of many processed and packaged foods and reintroduce the phenomenon of whole fresh fruit vegetables and grains. As the Region Forward Coalition works to identify key needs in our region’s activity centers food deserts are being considered along with transit access and housing choices. More people are starting to understand that you can’t have a Complete Community if it isn’t a Healthy Community. That’s a sign of progress.

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