Distance hinders healthy eating

Many Americans don’t think twice about making a weekly trip to the grocery store because they live in proximity to their local grocer.  But for people who don’t have the convenience of living down the street, grocery shopping is not just an inconvenience, it’s a financial and nutritional burden.

According to Minnesota Public Radio, the problem is especially prevalent in Minnesota, where buying healthy food is complicated by the lengthy distance to the grocery store. These “urban food deserts,” or low-income areas where the majority fo residents have to travel more than a mile to get to a grocery store, are scattered all over Minnesota, limiting how often the residents can make a trip to the store.  If they do buy vegetables, they often go bad before they are eaten.  And when they run out of fun, many people make the shorter trip to the gas station, which lacks a produce section altogether, or to fast food restaurants which offer limited nutritional value.

Many residents of Linkin Park shop at the Little Store, where healthy options are extremely limited, because it is more convenient than going to a full-sized grocery store. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Public Radio.

Adam Pine, a geographer at the University of Minnesota Duluth, is researching the Linkin Park area specifically to see where residents get their food. The residents have little to no money and no cars, and walk to the Little Store, a convenience store, to get frozen pizza and milk. But according to Pine’s research, a basket of food from a local convenience store costs 50 percent more than a basket from a grocery store.

The problem comes down to grocery stores not opening in the area because they would have trouble making a profit and face higher security costs. Community groups are still working to provide more options for residents, and are organizing a neighborhood gardening program that will sell discounted produce in Linkin Park this summer.

Nonprofit organizations are also helping to solve the problem of urban food deserts around the country.  According to Nonprofit Quarterly, nonprofits such as the emergency food aid group Philabundance have partnered with supermarket chains to bring them to these low-income areas.

Check out Sarah Kliff’s blog post in the Washington Post for the results from a recent survey offered by Public Health Nutrition related to this issue of convenience.

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