Food deserts are geographic areas where residents lack access to affordable fresh produce (fruits and vegetables), as well as whole grains, low-fat dairy, and other foods that make up a full and healthy diet. These same areas may have plenty of fast food restaurants and convenience stores offering primarily processed foods, but lack full service grocery stores and other healthy food retailers such as farmers markets. Many Americans living in rural or low-income urban areas experience food deserts and may be unable to access affordable, healthy foods, leaving their diets lacking essential nutrients.
A health policy analyst for a city health department contacted the Network for information on local policies that may help to address food deserts, with particular focus on policies that encourage small grocery stores to establish, renovate, or expand into underserved areas.
The Network compiled the following resources on policies designed to increase access to healthy foods as well as those that encourage grocery retailers to locate in underserved neighborhoods.
State-specific information for Kansas and Minnesota developed by the Public Health Law Center (based at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Saint Paul, Minnesota) provide interesting policy options for consideration. However, it should be noted that state laws may differ in terms of the degree of authority granted to local governments; thus, it is important to consult with local counsel to assess the viability of a given policy in a particular jurisdiction. The state-specific resources are available here:
Several resources focused on healthy food access are available from ChangeLab Solutions (located in Oakland, California):
The websites of the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and The Food Trust also have tools and resources that may be of interest. The Food Trust’s resources on improving access to supermarkets may be of particular interest, as well as the resources listed at the bottom of that webpage, including a link to the Healthy Food Access Portal which provides a map of relevant funding and policy efforts that is searchable by state, among other resources.