Canadian Environmental Health Atlas

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Policy Directions

Policy Directions

What can we do to reduce the effects of food deserts, particularly for society’s most vulnerable populations? Paradoxically, retailers of healthy foods find business to be unprofitable in low-income neighborhoods whereas retailers of inexpensive (and low quality) fast food find business find them profitable.

While the close relationship between low-income neighborhoods and poor food access is common in urban centres, the formation of food deserts is not inevitable. The way that we plan and develop urban spaces can help reduce the impact of food deserts.1 For example, to improve access to food, San Francisco’s Sustainable City Plan of 1997 funded a farmers’ market in one of the most depressed districts of the region, Bayview-Hunters Point.

Similarly, housing residents can establish community gardens and join urban agriculture programs or food cooperatives.2 These kinds of local solutions can be government-sponsored, government-coordinated, or led by community members.

Numerous international agreements, beginning with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, define food security as a right. While many Canadian cities and towns have adopted a rights-based approach to food security, national policy and minimum standards are still needed to respond to the growth of Canadian food deserts.

  • 1. 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.
  • 2. Friendly A. Towards food security policy for Canada's social housing sector. Ottawa: Canadian Policy Research Networks; 2009.