An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but for some city dwellers it’s hard to get apples in the first place.
“Urban food deserts” are cropping up because local grocery stores are either too far away or too expensive. This is in partly due to suburban migration. As people leave city centers, grocery stores go with them. Meanwhile, as city property gets more expensive, the remaining grocery stores tend to target urban-dwellers with higher incomes, making fresh foods less affordable. To track these trends, professors from Michigan State University in Lansing set out to map their city’s “food deserts.”
Professors Phil Howard and Kirk Goldsberry used GIS or Geographic Information Systems technology to collect data on store locations as well as the selection and prices of healthy foods. They compiled this information to create a visual representation of food access issues in Michigan’s capital city, calling it, “a nutritional CAT scan at the urban scale.”
They found that less than 4 percent of Lansing’s population lives within a 10-minute walk of a supermarket. Having a car helps, but it increases the cost of getting to the healthy food. And such challenges may not be unique to Lansing—the authors warn that urban food deserts are increasing throughout the United States.
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