The USDA released a new report on food deserts yesterday and the blogosphere lit up like a Christmas Tree. Which, honestly, saves me a lot of trouble. Jill Richardson pulls out some excellent data nuggets here. To summarize: Food deserts are areas where residents lack access to supermarkets and other outlets selling a broad, range of healthy food. It turns out that only a small percentage of Americans -- 2.2% -- live in true food deserts. At the same time, research indicates that there’s little correlation with access to healthy food and low Body Mass Index (BMI, used as a measure of obesity).
But I wanted to zero in on one aspect of the report that Ezra Klein captured nicely in the title of his post on the report: "It's Not the Food We Can't Get. It's the Food We Can." As he says:
The problem, it seems, is the opposite: food swamps. Areas dense with fast food and convenience stores. As the USDA puts it, "Easy access to all food, rather than lack of access to specific healthy foods, may be a more important factor in explaining increases in obesity." The concentration of the obesity crisis in high-poverty areas thus brings us back to a pretty well-accepted hypothesis: The problem is with low-income areas where the cheap food is the bad food.