More on Food Deserts, Now with Food Swamps!

Bill Bishop over at forwarded this link to Amber Waves as a follow-up to last week’s “food deserts” chat. (Thanks, Bill!)

In the piece, the idea of “food deserts” versus “food swamps” stood out most for me:

Food desert studies have focused on the lack of access to healthy foods, such as fruit and vegetables or whole grains. The flip side of the problem is an abundance of less healthy foods available from convenience stores and fast food restaurants. Easy access to less healthy, energy-dense foods, particularly if they are convenient and cheap, may swamp out healthier choices [Emphasis mine]. Some researchers have used the term “food swamps” for neighborhoods that have relatively easy access to less healthy foods compared with access to healthy foods. 

This twist on the metaphor of a food desert is particularly important for understanding high rates of obesity. The problem may not be that healthy food is not accessible or that families do not have strategies to get to stores that offer healthy options. Rather, the problem may be that, in some areas, less healthy food is much easier to access. It is often cheap. And, it usually requires less planning and time to prepare. Some recent studies have found an association between the proximity of small stores or fast food restaurants and body mass index. Recognizing that limited access to some foods and overly abundant access to others may both contribute to the problem of obesity is important for future research and policy considerations. [Read more]

Having first been introduced to the underpinnings of food security over five years ago while serving on the board of a regional food bank and helping to organize a local observation on National Hunger Awareness Day, I’m excited to now have TWO compelling phrases with which to work. 

Moreover, I believe the Obama administration needs to put finer points on their promotion of the Healthy Food Financing Initiative and start explaining “food swamps,” too.

Either that, or the media needs to ferret around and explore the “food swamps” concept on their own.

Or, better still, both things need to happen. Fast. Why?

Because our children’s health now and in the future depends upon our understanding the nuances of the obesity epidemic’s roots  to the best of our combined abilities.

Explore More:

• Origin of the term “food swamp” in 2009 can be found here on the National Poverty Center’s site.
• Origin of the term “food deserts” can be found here on the site.
• Food swamp discussion from last year on Washington Post site here.

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