It may be unfortunate case of irony, that in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, The United States is home to a large number of “food deserts.” Wikipedia’s definition says, “A food desert is any area in the industrialized world where healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain. It is prevalent in rural as well as urban areas and is most prevalent in low-socioeconomic minority communities, and is associated with a variety of diet-related health problems.” An epidemic in Black communities around the nation, Michelle Obama heads back to her hometown, Chicago, to address its food desert problem, along with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a ‘food desert summit’ next week. The summit is part of the First Lady’s wellness oriented, “Let’s Move” campaign to promote healthy lifestyles for American’s youth, and prevent childhood obesity.
Mrs. Obama’s lengthy list of ‘to do’s’ starts with promoting healthful diets for ‘food desert’ residents. ABC News reports her first stop will be at the city’s South Side Walgreens that was expanded to include produce and grocery items. Next up will be the Iron Street Urban Farms, a 7-acre site where wholesome food is locally grown.
Although a recent report claims Chicago’s food desert has shrunk by 40 percent in the past five years, work to eradicate the shortage is far from over. Studies by author and food desert expert Mari Gallagher indicate that Chicago’s food desert population totals 384,000, and nearly one-third of those people, about 124,000, are children. And similar to many other American cities, these deserts are typically found in predominantly African-American communities.
Illustrating the severity of the matter Mari Gallagher’s findings also claim:
“Majority African American and majority White communities that have out-of-balance food environments will have higher rates of residents dying prematurely from diabetes that are statistically significant, controlling for income, education, and race. African American communities will be the most likely to experience the greatest total years of life lost from diabetes as a result. To measure this effect, we developed a Food Balance Score: the distance to the closest grocer divided by the distance to the closest fast food restaurant for each block, tract, and Community Area in the City of Chicago. The more out of balance the community, the higher the life lost to diabetes.”
Michelle Obama’s timely, healthful initiative kicks off in Chi-town next Tuesday, November 1st.