A food desert refers to a region with a high population of low-income earners who have difficulty accessing quality affordable foodstuff. On the other hand, a region with plenty nutritious accessible foodstuff is referred to as a food oasis. In food desert determination, various factors are put into consideration, that is, types and standards of foodstuffs, number, distribution, and dimensions of the grocery stores. Food desert regions are deficient in grocery stores and supermarkets which minimize the population’s accessibility to nutritious and affordable food (Dubowitz, 2015).
The biggest percentage of Americans resides in food desert regions depicting that they stay miles away from the convenient stores. Food desert regions miss vegetable and fruit vendors and are instead infested by vendors supplying unhealthy high sugar and cholesterol fast foods. Fast foods are the highest cause of the overweight disease and chronic ailments. Deviations in the food desert definition vary in accordance to the region (rural or urban), availability of disposable income, food pricing, number of convenient stores in the region, accessibility to the stores, foodstuff variety on offer and the quality and health value of the foods.
Accessibility to nutritional foodstuff is determined through measurement of distance. The distance of a regional segment from the closest grocery stores determines foodstuff accessibility for the individuals residing in that segment. In checking the distance, the places with high residence are used as the central points, for instance, homes, schools and job places (Weatherspoon, 2015). The central point is connected to the stores point to measure food accessibility. Various standards that impact distance are utilized and they include:
Population size: The standard defines a food desert as a region with at least five hundred individuals in a town or city residing a mile from a grocery store or supermarket. For those residing in the rural areas, the distance is considered to be ten miles.
Disposable income: A food desert is characterized by a high population of low-income earners living a mile away from the grocery stores in cities and twenty miles away in rural areas. Most of the population opts to consume fast foods as they are cheaper and accessible. Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, are a bit expensive and not easily accessed as most of the low-income earners work in shifts and usually come home late. By that time most of the convenient stores are already closed. The best option is to go for the readily available fast foods.
Transport: Lack of cars also characterizes food deserts for more than a hundred residents who reside half a mile from the closest grocery store. For those residents with vehicles, they live more than twenty miles from the grocery stores. The time taken to travel from the place of residence to the grocery is also taken into consideration. In regions considered to be food deserts, people take more time to travel to and from the food store to get nutritional affordable and accessible food.
Causes of Food Deserts
Food deserts are initiated by several factors observed in regions with a high percentage of low-income earners and individuals who do not own cars. These areas have also experienced drastic economic changes which have forced out the grocery stores and instead replaced them with fast food vending points (Dubowitz, 2015). The causes of food desert are further described as follows:
Nutritional food availability
Nutritional food vendors usually avail fresh foodstuffs such as various fruits and greens. The vendors include supermarkets, grocery stores, farmer stores and community farms. Most of these fresh food vendors are faced out from the accessible city regions by changes in the economy. Lack of healthy foodstuff availability has led to the encroachment of the fast food retailers who serve unhealthy diets to the population. They sell high sugar and cholesterol foodstuff which initiates obesity issues on the consumers (Weatherspoon, 2015).
Disposable income and food pricing
Another factor contributing to the growth of food deserts is the food pricing and the population’s disposable income. The food prices are a major determinant of consumer behaviour. Most people residing in the food desert areas are low-income earners, and they prefer to go for cheap, unhealthy foodstuff from the fast food stores. Fast foods are cheaper than the healthy nutritional fruits and vegetables (Hager, 2017). One banana costs a dollar yet the same money can buy a bountiful bag amount of fast foods. To minimize costs on consumption, the residents opt to go for the cheaper foods despite their low nutritional value.
Jobs and relatives
Those individuals who have no fixed jobs and usually work in late shifts may have difficulty shopping for groceries since most of these stores finish their operations early. Individuals are thus forced to go for fast foods from stores that operate until late hours (Hager, 2017). For those individuals living and working in food desert regions and have relatives to cater for, traveling to shop for nutritious foods may be challenging which results in unhealthy dieting.
Security and outlook of stores
Some of the food stores may be located in areas with high crime rates. The customers who are walking may have difficulty accessing the stores to make food purchases, and this may force them to go for fast foods. Different stores also treat their clients differently, for instance, some store attendants are unwelcoming and do not upgrade their customer care services. They, therefore, are more likely to discourage customers from shopping at their stores (Hager, 2017).
Fast food proximity
Majority of the fast food restaurants are located close to the low-income minority residents. They offer cheaper readily available and accessible foodstuff. Individuals living in the low-income regions are more exposed to visit fast food stores than their counterparts in the wealthy regions. In the United States, there is small number of stores selling healthy foodstuff to the African American community. The percentage of fast food restaurants located in the African American neighborhoods is much higher compared to that located in the White community areas. The situation, therefore, causes an escalation in the consumption of unhealthy foodstuff in the marginalized areas in the United States (LeClair, 2014). The highest percentage of the population suffering from obesity, heart diseases, and premature deaths are the African Americans due to unhealthy feeding habits and prevalence of fast food restaurants in their residential areas.
Culture and social norms
Consumers who are used to buying from the local restaurants are likely to have more difficulty changing to a healthy food store. Client seller loyalty may influence the buyer to continue buying his or her foodstuff from the local restaurants despite the foods unhealthy nature. The local consumers thus develop the habit of consuming unhealthy products which in time impact the society’s health negatively (LeClair, 2014).
Distance and Transportation
Many individuals prefer to consume foodstuff that is readily available and close to their area of residence. In the rural region, securing foodstuff is a major concern attributed to by transportation needed to access food stores. Most of the food stores that supply nutritious foodstuff are located miles away from the people’s place of residence. To access the stores, they have to travel long distances which takes time (Hager, 2017). The distance forces the people in the rural areas to lack proper nutritious meals leading to undernourishment. Many individuals lacking cars or modes of public transport may opt to consume the fast foods since the restaurants are easily accessible and cheap.
Inadequate government intervention
Most of the grocery retail stores have been faced from the cities and towns due to the unfriendly economic situations. Many supermarkets have been forced to shift their operations into suburbs which are not easily accessible and safe to shop in with children (LeClair, 2014). The government has regulated its grants to the farmers and licensing to the marginalized to encourage marketing and sales in the city streets. It has also minimized funding meant to aid the supermarkets and other retail stores in majority regions secure vehicles. The vehicles are meant to create ease accessing the markets for those consumers who reside miles away and also enhance massive shopping from the clients.
Effects to the community
Food deserts not only affect individual persons but also have an impact on the entire community. The effects include:
Inflated prices for healthy foodstuff
Lack of healthy food stores raises the price of nutritional foods such as greens, low-fat milk, and fruits. The price of orange at a grocery store might be a dollar. The same dollar may buy a bountiful amount of unhealthy foodstuff from a fast food restaurant (Weatherspoon, 2015). The demand for the nutritional food exceeds the supply raising the price of the fruits and vegetables forcing many to choose the high sugar and fat mode of diet.
An unhealthy population
The foods sold by the fast food restaurants have a high content of protein, fat, cholesterol and sugar. The unhealthy nature of the foods contributes to nutritional epidemics such as obesity, heart problems and diabetes for the consumers. In some medical cases, some patients who are diagnosed with obesity are known to suffer from malnutrition due to lack of proper nutrients in their foods (Suarez, 2015). Some of the complications associated with the fast foods include:
Atherosclerosis: Fast foods have high contents of salt and cholesterol which are the main contributors to heart problems. High salt intake is associated with negative impacts on blood pressure. Consumption of too much salty high cholesterol foodstuffs brings about lipid accumulation in the artery walls. Continued accumulation narrows the artery walls and thus heightens the blood pressure. The high pressure can be fatal as it can result in a stroke or premature death. Atherosclerosis can be avoided by consuming greens, fruits, and grain foodstuffs.
Diabetes: A lot of the fast food restaurants sell high sugar content drinks such as coca cola and Pepsi. Constant consumption of foods and drinks with too much sugar content have the effect of escalating the blood sugar content causing diabetes. The after effects are infections to the kidney, destruction of the nerves, blood pressure escalation and stroke as a result of the bursting of the blood vessels due to high pressure (Suarez, 2015). To inhibit diabetes, one should consume drinks such as fat-free milk, water, and free sugar cokes.
Obesity: People who consume foodstuff with high-calorie contents are more likely to suffer from obesity condition. Individuals with this condition are usually likely to have heart problems, high blood sugar levels, and cancer attacks. Ladies are more likely to have complicated pregnancies as a result of the condition. To prevent obesity, individuals are encouraged to avoid consuming foods with high-fat content and to involve themselves in physical exercises to help bring down the calorie levels (Suarez, 2015).
Skin irritation: The skin is one of the major excretory organs as it secretes sweat and oils from the body. Consumption of massive amounts of proteins and oils hurts the skin. For instance, the ladies are mostly affected since their skin is meant to excrete more oils. Therefore, consuming more oils will cause more excretion and as a result initiate development of pimples and acne.
Digestive complications: Most individuals who consume fast foods have high protein, fat and sugar intake with minimized vitamin and fibre intakes. The proteins, sugar, and fats are broken down by the body to release energy which is deficient in nutrients such as vitamins and fibre from greens and vegetables. The high protein contents usually cause colorectal complications by initiating the development of a cancerous cell in the region. It initiates digestive complications and can be fatal if not properly monitored and treated.
Excess energy production: Fast foods contain large amounts of calories which are needed by the body for energy production. Majority of the foods contain a calorie amount of over a thousand which exceeds the amount needed for an average man and woman. It’s expected that a mature lady requires more units of energy than a mature male (Suarez, 2015). Expending fats usually depends on the size of the body and tasks one mostly involves in. Consuming excessive calories means increasing energy production. If the calorie consumption is not limited, it may lead to excessive fat accumulation in the body leading to obesity.
Depressed population: Excessive consumption of fast foods is a major contributor to stress and depression. People who consume more fast foods as compared to those who consume less have a higher chance of developing stress. For instance, most of the fast food daily consumers are obese individuals who are majorly stressed by their body appearance and weight. Most of the suicide cases in the United States are associated with weight issue cases (Dharmasena, 2016). They are mostly ridiculed in the society and usually find it hard to create social ties and integrate with others in the society. Most of them end up enrolling in medical programs meant to reduce weight which is not the safest and most convenient way of losing weight. Obesity has become one of the major factors leading to depression and stress in the United States and other Nations in the World.
Wastage of resources
Most of the people living far away from the grocery stores or working till late shifts prefer to consume foods from the restaurants. Daily consumption, especially for individuals with families, can be quite expensive as compared to preparing home-cooked meals (Taylor, 2015). The finances used for taking breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a restaurant can instead purchase groceries enough to feed a family for a week. The meal prepared at home will be more nutritious and affordable as the family will save on costs associated with repeat purchases.
An unproductive population
The food crisis has brood an unhealthy young population over the years. People under the age of thirty-five years who are considered to be more energetic and productive in the society are now being diagnosed with ailments such as diabetes, obesity and heart diseases. In the early days, these diseases were usually associated with the elderly in society. The ailments usually limit performance, and the individuals cannot be able to carry out heavy tasks. Since the majority of the individuals are suffering from the conditions due to lack of proper nutrition, the per capita output has significantly reduced (Shannon, 2016). The economy is likely to suffer as development is initiated by production from the suffering population.
There are methods of alleviating food deserts and enable easier access to standard nutritional food. The following recommendations when implemented can lead to improved nutritional well-being in the society. They include:
The best way of combating food desert is growing greens and fruits in society farms that can be easily accessed. Residents of the surrounding areas will have ample nutritional food provisions plus it will strengthen the people’s relationship and bonding. The government should help assist the farmers by offering them benefit initiatives through their Nutritional programs. Most towns and cities will be able to feed a larger proportion of their residents using these farms. The communities gardens will help address the food scarcity issue in the cities and towns (Wang, 2014).
Local merchant carts
Another way to combat food desert is to encourage fruit and vegetable sales by vendors. The vendors can access those areas that lack green food stores. The government can come in and provide permits to roadside vendors to encourage fresh vegetable and fruit sales in the city. Through this, the government will be granting an opportunity for self-employment to the minority in society. People from the African American community will be able to boost their income through this which will increase the amount of disposable income necessary for a decent healthy meal.
Mobile food stores
Mobile food stores refer to vehicles such as a truck which has been improvised to accommodate food containers. Their interior is redesigned to look and functions as a store. An advantage of the mobile stores is that fresh food can be availed into the highly populated areas and the consumers can readily access nutritional foods on specific occasions. The mobile seller also provides a recipe for healthy nutritional meals to his or her client which promotes the welfare of the whole society (Hu, 2015). To increase the number of mobile food stores, the government can create initiatives meant to enhance fund the projects. Through these, quality and affordable foodstuff will be provided to the city residents.
One of the factors limiting most residents from accessing a healthy nutritional meal is the distance from their areas of residence to the grocery stores. Many of them are low-income earners and so cannot afford to own a vehicle to take them to and from the food stores. To inhibit this obstacle, the stores and supermarkets can provide means of transport for instance vans or buses. Through this, they will be able to retain their clients, attract clients and their customers will buy larger amounts of foodstuff as they have a transport mode (Wang, 2014). The community can also come together and purchase a community vehicle to serve all the community routes on a daily basis. A community vehicle will reduce transportation costs for the residents and help the individuals access the food stores at their convenient times. The residents will also have a close social relationship meant to increase coordination and integration in the society.
Health education can play a major role in impacting nutritional behavior. Consumption of unhealthy foodstuff usually affects low-income earners and the minority in society. Educating the masses about health matters prioritizing on the types of food consumed will go a long way in building a healthier society. Education on health matters enables the individuals to acquire and comprehend lifestyle information which in turn ensures proper treatment to eating disorders and decision making (Wang, 2014). People can make critical nutritional choices and boost their health conditions and status. Proper health education will help minimize complications such as diabetes, obesity, heart complications and premature deaths in the society. Choosing to go for healthy nutritional foodstuff will improve one’s health and also minimize the gap between classes of those residing in food deserts.
For the maintenance of a proper health condition, individuals are encouraged to have discipline when it comes to consumption matters. For instance, if one decides to avoid consuming high fat and calorie foods and to increase intake of low sugar drinks, grains, fruits, and greens, he or she should have serious adherence even in a food desert. Continued discipline over time will generate success regarding a proper health condition (Wang, 2014). To enhance diet discipline, physical training should be incorporated to aid develop proper consumption programs and strict observation of the feeding habits. The continuous monitoring helps the consumers keep their consumption habits in check.
To combat food desert, farmers and other stakeholders can implement volunteer program to gather nutritional greens and fruits that would be wasted on sales and instead distribute it to the marginalized areas. Individuals in the regions lacking affordable nutritional meals will be assured of decent healthy meals, and social cohesion and integration will be enhanced in the community (Wang, 2014).
Initiating public policy programs
The government needs to move to an address the food crisis issue affecting individuals both in the cities and those residing in the rural areas. It needs to fund projects and create policies meant to widen access to the healthy nutritional foodstuff in the whole Nation. It can provide capital assistance and licenses to grocery stores to expand their operations into the city centers for easier accessibility (Hu, 2015). It can also offer grants in the form of loans to farmers to increase their productivity and also to supermarkets to regularly renovate their market areas. Grants will help the citizen’s access nutritional foods easily and also reduce the burden of farmers and other retailers in availing their foodstuffs into the market.
Majority of the marketers and retailers utilize online publicity to advertise and make sales of their products. One of the major limiting factors for food desert is the distance factor. Most of the people are located so far away from the grocery and accessing nutritional foodstuff becomes a major hindrance. Using the online platform, the distance is reduced since the customers can directly communicate with the retailer, get a full description of the foods in stock and turn make an order (Hu, 2015). The orders can be directly delivered to the customer’s premises. Technology has served to aid majority especially the old, disabled and those who reside far away from the food stores. Utilizing technology can also help curb the transportation factor as customers can access Uber services. Travelling for important resources can thus be eased in food desert regions.
Health service provision
The food desert crisis can be inhibited by initiating free medical programs meant to provide food solutions to those individuals suffering from chronic ailments, diabetes, and obesity. For instance, individuals suffering from these ailments can be provided with free greens and fruits as a prescription for their ailments. Many individuals in the food desert regions on the diagnosis of blood sugar ailments and obesity end up dying prematurely due to strokes and heart attacks (Shannon, 2014). Even after being given proper prescriptions and dieting, they still cannot access the proper nutritious meals to help them get better. They instead go back to the fast foods which worsen their conditions even more. Therefore, the only solution to diagnosing them is providing them with the proper medication which is the fresh, nutritional meals.
Increment of sales tax and licensing on fringe foods
For the government to discourage the consumption of unhealthy fast foods, it can charge higher sales tax on the commodities. The increased rates will, in turn, raise the prices of the fast foods in the restaurants. Majority of the fast food consumers are the low-income earners and the marginalized in the society. The sales increment will force them to look for alternative ways of diet. They will instead go for the affordable fresh, nutritional vegetables, fruits, less fatty milk, and grains. Alternatively, the government can also increase the license fee charges through the local authorities and city councils. The aim is to discourage investors intending to venture into the fast food business and instead offer more incentives to those intending to open up fresh, healthy food businesses (Wang, 2014).
Majority of households suffer from lack of proper nutrition due to mass consumption of unhealthy foodstuff. Food deserts have been majorly attributed by various factors such as the distance between consumers and fresh food sellers, lack of transport, social factors and behaviours, lack of proper incentives and initiatives by the government, income differentials, and marginalization in the society. As a result, the majority of the citizens suffer from chronic ailments, obesity and premature deaths. The sad thing about the situation is that even children at a young age are now being diagnosed with diabetes and obesity.
The young population suffering from obesity is now being diagnosed with malnutrition due to large intakes of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates but missing vitamins and other essential nutrients derived from vegetables, grains, and fruits. All key stakeholders in the society need to come together to minimize the food crisis issue. The government, farmers, retailers and the public need to join hands in fighting the food crisis issue. They can achieve this by initiating voluntary programs, free, affordable medical services, technology utilization, transport easement, funding, grants and cohesion among individuals in the society. The food crisis issue will only be inhibited if individuals in the society come together and coordinate their efforts towards curbing the nutritional problems
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