CPM Winter 2020 - 19

daup h i n c m s .o rg

the word desert conjures up mental images of scarcity of food
in general, the lack of access to nutritious food can come from a
variety of causes, leading to a broad characterization of what can
constitute a food desert.  Differences in definition vary in the
type of area (urban or rural), economic barriers to accessibility
including transportation, income levels in the area, cost of food,
distance travelled to stores, the number of supermarkets in the
given area, types of foods offered, and the nutritional quality of
these foods1. It is these factors that ultimately can contribute to
a lack of access to affordable and nutritious food, leading to the
idea that not all food deserts are the same: unique combinations
of these factors contribute to the individual community's label
as a food desert. 


Food deserts in the United States are not as uncommon as
one might think. The United States Department of Agriculture's
(USDA) Economic Research Service used data gathered in the
2000 Census and 2006 supermarket data to identify food desert
locations and then examined the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of these areas to see which characteristics
are associated with food desert status2.  Their findings revealed
that food deserts "tend to have smaller populations, higher rates
of abandoned or vacant homes, and residents who have lower
levels of education, lower incomes and higher unemployment."
They also found that areas with higher poverty rates as well as
higher concentrations of minority populations are more likely
to be food deserts. The work done by the USDA illuminates the
characteristics that are often seen in conjunction with food deserts.
However, the interplay between these factors and the status of
a food desert area is very complex, and it is difficult to state the
pantry programs, and community garden projects. If we are what
cause and effect relationship. 
we eat, it is important to make sure our neighbors living in food
One of the most important aspects of food deserts is the variety
deserts are able to access affordable and nutritious food.
of health implications that arise because of the lack of affordable
Special thanks to Dr. Sarah Ramirez, MD, for her oversight
and nutritious food. Non-nutritious foods are not only well linked
to obesity, which is harmful to the body, increasing the risk of and mentorship.
cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, and stroke, as well
as to the healthcare industry and ultimately the economy3. When
nutritious foods are not available and affordable for a multitude
of reasons, it is hard to eat healthy. Some of the other adverse 1. Walker RE, Keane CR, Burke JG. Disparities and access to healthy food
in the United States: A review of food deserts literature. Health and Place.
effects of food deserts are not necessarily directly caused by the 2010;16:876-884.
lack of adequately nutritious and affordable foods, but are related
2. Dutko, Paula, Michele Ver Ploeg, and Tracey Farrigan. Characteristics and
to other outcomes of some of the underlying characteristics of Influential Factors of Food Deserts, ERR-140, U.S. Department of Agricul- ture,
food deserts. For example, areas of food deserts often lack access Economic Research Service, August 2012.
to other services as well, including high quality education systems, 3. Inagami S, Cohen DA, Finch BK, Asch SM. You are where you shop: grocery
sufficient access to healthcare, parks/recreational areas, and other store locations, weight, and neighborhoods. American journal of preventive mediinfrastructure. The combination of these with the lack of adequately cine. 2006;31:10.
nutritious food can lead to adverse health outcomes2.
There is no perfect answer to solving the complex problems that
cause and arise from food deserts, but many efforts have been
made to mitigate the adverse effects. Some of the more common
creative solutions include community-sustained agriculture (CSA),
where residents can order directly from local farmers, mobile food

Central PA Medicine Winter 2020 19


CPM Winter 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CPM Winter 2020

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