June 24, 2009

Food Deserts Lower Life Expectancy

A report released last Thursday (pdf), and picked up by the Chicago Sun-Times, reveals the health ramifications of living in a food desert. The report analyzed specific neighborhoods in Chicago with only costly and unhealthy corner stores (or no stores at all), and concluded that the addition of one full-service supermarket would significantly lower the rates of chronic diseases in this community. The Sun-Times quotes some remarkable numbers for the projected positive effects on this neighborhoods' collective life expectancy:

gain about 15 years of life back from diabetes, 112 years of life from cardiovascual diseases, 13 years from liver disease and 58 years of life back from diet-related cancers.

Also of note:
The biggest gains from access to a supermarket would come in 181.8 years given back from cardiovascular disease in the food desert at 4700 S. State, according to the report.

Mari Gallagher came to these conclusions by combing through neighborhood census data, comparing life expectancy, median income, and a number of other factors, matching it with public health data, and then calculating it against the distance to the nearest grocery store. The calculation itself is pretty interesting. We'd also note that those years in the balance aren't just numbers; they're filled with the affliction of debilitating and costly health problems.

And so we take food deserts very seriously at Bread for the City--in fact some of our first posts on Beyond Bread were about the lack of grocery stores in River East, a known food desert. (And our Northwest location in Shaw is facing its own food desert problem, though only temporarily, with the prospect of our nearby Giant closing down for redevelopment.) Our food pantry is one way to combat the effect of that food desert, since the food we distribute is nutritious and free. Beyond that, we've also advocated for affordable food access points for years, and helped build the DC Food Finder to better address food access issues. But there's still a great deal more work to be done.

Does anyone know of a similar study going on in DC?

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