Providing affordable, healthy food options in food deserts

Archived Content

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Monday, March 7, 2016
Food deserts are locations without easy access to fresh, healthy, and affordable foods. Food consumed in food deserts is often high in cholesterol, sugar, and fat. NIFA is working to eradicate food deserts throughout the country though a variety of programs.

Community Food Project (CFP) grants provide communities with the funds they need to re-establish local control over their food supply. For example, funds are helping Choctaw Fresh Produce in Choctaw, Miss., supply the tribal community with fresh fruits and vegetables. Prior to the $300,000 grant, virtually none of the produce consumed on the reservation was grown there. The tribe has since constructed a greenhouse, three high tunnels (unheated greenhouse-like structures that protect crops and extend the growing season), a 10-acre fruit orchard, and a packing operation. 

Obesity and correlated health conditions have a $100 billion-a-year impact on the U.S. health care system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Southern University and A&M College, in Baton Rouge, La., is responding with an extension-based initiative, “Eradicating Food Deserts in Neighborhoods through the Development of School Gardens.” To date, this program has reached three area schools and 500 students. Participants were introduced to a variety of nutrition-related technology, gardening, and physical fitness activities. The initiative’s most successful program is “Plant it-Grow it, Try it-Like it,” which promotes community gardening. Students have ownership of school garden spaces and easy access to fresh vegetables.

The University of Arkansas, supported by an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant to examine the effect of food deserts on the body mass index of elementary school children. Evidence showed that increased proximity to food deserts is associated with higher body mass index. The strongest and largest association was among urban students, especially those who moved into food deserts from non-deserts. An online food desert locator tool, sponsored by USDA’s Economic Research Service, is also available. 

Over the past seven years, USDA and the Obama Administration have made great strides in maximizing the ability of our programs to fight hunger and improve health for more children and families. We’ve focused on science-based food and nutrition strategies that contribute to our country’s national and economic security. To learn more, visit USDA Results.