Poorer Mental and Physical Health
What does poor access to quality food mean for residents of food deserts? Consider what Marmot and Wilkinson, writing for the World Health Organization (WHO),1 say about diet and nutrition:
A good diet and adequate food supply are central for promoting health and wellbeing. A shortage of food and lack of variety cause malnutrition and deficiency diseases. Excess intake (also a form of malnutrition) contributes to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, degenerative eye diseases, obesity and dental caries …The important public health issue is the availability and cost of healthy, nutritious food. Access to good, affordable food makes more difference to what people eat than health education (p.26).
Although the authors are not speaking directly about geographical food deserts, their comments apply to residents of communities who have limited access to affordable food. Marmot and Wilkinson’s assessment is echoed by another researcher, Cook, who writes that children and adults facing food insecurity—insufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food—are at increased risk of diabetes and poorer mental and physical health.2
What leads to the formation of food deserts and reduced access to quality food at the community level? Since World War II, grocery stores in most cities have increased in size and relocated to suburban areas, leaving many urban neighbourhoods with few outlets for fresh, affordable produce, milk, meat, and other staples. The effect of an urban food desert is compounded for low-income residents, who often do not own a car and depend on public transportation.3 In addition, low-income residents frequently need to make shelter a budget priority and have little money to spend on food after they pay for housing each month.
- 1. Marmot MG, Wilkinson RG. Social Determinants of Health: The Solid Facts, second edition. Copenhagen: World Health Organization, 2003
- 2. Cook B. Food Security Issues in a Public Health Context – Literature Review and Environmental Scan. Antigonish, NS: National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health, 2008
- 3. Pothukuchi K, Kaufman JL. Placing the Food System on the Urban Agenda: The Role of Municipal Institutions in Food Systems Planning. Agric Human Values. 1999;16(2):213-224.