'Food Deserts' Depriving Towns of Fresh Fruit and Vegetables
By Martin Hickman Consumer Affairs Correspondent
The demise of greengrocers has turned large areas of the country into "food deserts" where people have inadequate access to fresh fruit and vegetables, according to a retailing academic.
Even market towns such as Shrewsbury and Winchester have pockets of nutritional barrenness where residents fail to obtain five portions of fresh food a day, said Dr Hillary Shaw, of Harper Adams University College, in Shropshire.
He estimated that ensuing health problems such as heart disease and diabetes were costing Britain 10bn a year in healthcare costs and lost productivity.
Dr Shaw began his research in 2000, plotting the location of residential areas and shops on 500sq m grids. Since then he has checked around 6,000sq km, covering the whole of Birmingham, much of Hampshire, Somerset, Shrewsbury and parts of north London and Stevenage. In each area, he has visited shops to see if they sold 10 or more items of fresh produce.
He found that around 20 per cent of rural areas and 25 per cent of urban areas were "food deserts" where people have to walk more than 500 metres to reach a shop selling a good amount of fruit and vegetables.
In 1997, Tessa Jowell, then a health minister, defined a food desert as an area "where people do not have easy access to healthy, fresh foods particularly if they are poor and have limited mobility" and said, ideally, there would be a supply of fresh food within 500 metres of every home. …