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Food Deserts in America

By Rachel Isaacs

According to the USDA, approximately 34 million people experienced food insecurity in the United States in 2021; and of these people, nearly one-fourth were children (Coleman-Jensen et al. 2022). Beyond this, access to fresh food is limited for 40.5 million Americans living in USDA-designated food deserts nationwide. While food insecurity in the United States is not a novel phenomenon, the long-observed disparity between communities facing the most pervasive security issues has recently gained attention.

Photo courtesy of Forbes

Food insecurity can be linked to the inability to afford food, it is often also induced by a lack of access to grocery stores or supermarkets in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities traditionally called “food deserts”. However, the complexity of the issue has recently prompted a reevaluation of this term, as the solution is not as simple as increasing the prevalence of grocery stores (Fu 2020). Communities facing these challenges are the product of historically redlined districts, which were used to segregate communities and have consequently instilled racial and socio-economic division in modern society. Areas of food insecurity are a direct consequence of this division, as stores that carry the healthiest food are also oftentimes the most expensive (Weaver 2017). Consequently, high-quality grocery stores are typically located exclusively in wealthier areas, making it increasingly difficult for lower-income families to purchase healthy food. This phenomenon can be linked with several long-term health impacts, including higher rates of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. In the long run, these health risks may even result in additional financial burdens and, in extreme cases, premature death (Tobin & Weaver 2017). The persistence of inequality has exposed the socioeconomic disparities that are deeply rooted in the United State’s social institutions as well as the issue’s innate complexity.

Steps to address this issue have taken many forms, and there is a continuous effort to aid impacted populations. While there is a long way to go, increasing awareness and understanding of food deserts is a great place to start. Moving forward, there will need to be a drastic restructuring of our institutional systems in order to solve the ingrained disparities that persist in today’s society, and assessing the issue through an environmental justice lens is crucial.

For more information on how you can help, visit Aria Dailee’s blog post, titled 5 Solutions That Alleviate Food Insecurity in the U.S. or What Are Food Deserts? All You Need to Know, by Amber Charles Alexis.



Health and socioeconomic disparities of food deserts. Global Ecological Humanities. (n.d.). Retrieved February 1, 2023, from

Coleman-Jensen, A. (n.d.). Publications. USDA ERS - Publications. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from

Fu, Jessica. Is it time to retire the term “food desert?”. January 9, 2020. Retrieved February 16, 2023 from


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