Economic Find: Food Deserts

We are all becoming increasingly aware of the connections between a nutritious diet and good health. However, a key public health concern in even wealthy industrialized countries like the US is that many people do not have access to fresh, wholesome food. In other words, they live in a Food Desert.

Food Deserts are usually defined by travel distance to a grocery store, but what that prohibitive distance really is gets complicated by a variety of factors. For example, someone might live only a mile from a grocery store, but without a car or reliable bus service, that person is living in a Food Desert.

Food Deserts are often found in poor urban areas; these neighborhoods are filled with badly-stocked markets that charge exorbitant prices. This chart shows that over 20% of the urban poor in the U.S. (10.1 million people) live in Food Deserts, leaving them little choice but to eat mostly refined and processed food, which, as we increasingly know, contributes to a host of health problems.

Food Deserts



Created by CPE Member Economist Sue Holmberg

September 2011



Ver Ploeg, Michele et al., 2009. “Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and their Consequences.” United States Department of Agriculture.