Food Deserts Might Not Play That Big a Part in Causing America’s Obesity

Living / Health & Fitness

Food Deserts Might Not Play That Big a Part in Causing America’s Obesity

By: Nicole Capo

So-called “food deserts” have shouldered much of the burden of blame in determining the cause behind American obesity, especially throughout the Obama administration.

According to that line of thinking, folks who don’t have a large supermarket that offers healthy foods and fresh produce close to their homes or their work basically have to resort to buying their meals at fast food chains or from convenience stores. Less access to fresh produce means a health gap among Americans, with specific neighborhoods in the country seeing more obese citizens. Want to know if there’s a food desert near you? The USDA made a map for policymakers and nonprofits, here, which shows areas across the United States with high volumes of residences and few vehicles. The main problem with that map is that it doesn’t take into consideration methods of public transportation available to those without cars.

Another factor to consider? Building more grocery stores and creating more farmer’s markets might not be the quick fix many have thought it to be. Studies are finding that people don’t just need easy access to fresh food — they also need choices and quality food options. If the local supermarket only has overripe, wilting vegetables that are clearly past their prime, not a lot of people are going to want to buy them, even if it’s their only option for produce.

Research has found that few people will go to their local neighborhood grocery store and, in fact, are willing to travel further if it means shorter lines, cheaper products, or better quality foods. A new study by researchers at the University of Washington followed 2,000 Seattle area residents via GPS trackers on their cars and found that people don’t mind taking a little more time to fulfill their personal shopping preferences.

"There are people who live next to Whole Foods, but they’re driving to Fred Meyer," said Anju Aggarwal, one of the researchers on the study.

The same occurs vice-versa — there are some people who drive away from Fred Meyer to get the “better,” organic produce at Whole Foods. The research has been compiled for two years, and you can watch the movements of the people studied here. Those in on the study are hoping to use the information they’ve collected to determine exactly what it is that people want when shopping for food, and what steps need to be taken to help ensure that quality, convenient, and cheap products can be made easily available to everyone.

So, are food deserts really the main problem behind America's obesity epidemic? They certainly don’t help the situation, but simply planting more grocery chains across the nation is akin to applying one very small Band-Aid to a much more complicated problem.

[Pic via Flickr - Jeff Kramer]

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