We’ve all heard about the problem of food deserts, those geographic areas where residents have limited or no easy access to healthy foods. Now you can find out exactly where they are with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new Food Access Research Atlas.
The USDA website notes the atlas – an improved version of its two-year-old Food Desert Locator – reveals multiple indicators of food access for census tracts, including measures of low income, low access to supermarkets, household vehicle availability and share of people living in group quarters. According to the National Public Radio (NPR) food blog, “The Salt,” the atlas “is intended as a tool for state policymakers, local planners and nonprofit groups concerned about food access.”
By clicking on the online atlas’s map, you peruse specific cities and even neighborhoods where people live more than a mile from a grocery store and how many households there without vehicles are farther than a half-mile from a store. I found out that I’m one of the fortunate Americans in that in my Urbandale, Iowa, neighborhood, only about one percent of households without vehicles are more than one-half mile from the supermarket. “The Salt” post, on the other hand, noted that an area just north of NPR’s Washington, DC, headquarters has a “relatively high” number of households – 36 percent – without vehicles that are more than one-half mile from a supermarket.
The atlas doesn’t take into account people’s access to grocery stores by bus or train, USDA economist Paula Dutko said, because there are no national data. A post on “The Salt” a year ago also pointed out that solving the problem of access to healthy food, such as produce, takes more than building more grocery stores; additional factors include perceived quality of the foods and customer service. But the Food Access Research Atlas at least gives everyone a clearer, more detailed picture of our nation’s food needs.