Healthy Eats Hard to Find in Region; Areas in and around Jacksonville Are 'Food Deserts,' Study Finds

Article excerpt

Byline: Jeremy Cox

Duval County residents are more likely than typical Americans to struggle with finding healthy food, according to a new nationwide analysis of places known as food deserts.

About 7 percent of the population, or about 62,000 people, met the study's criteria of living at least one mile from a supermarket for urban dwellers and in a neighborhood with a poverty rate of at least 20 percent. Across the contiguous United States - the analysis excluded Alaska and Hawaii - about 13.5 million, or 5 percent, lived in such conditions.

Duval's total is larger than that of some more populous Florida counties, including Miami-Dade, Orange and Pinellas.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a food desert as an area that is devoid of affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other nutritious foods.

Research suggests that people with no local choices except fast-food restaurants and convenience stores are likely to eat unhealthy foods and suffer the consequences, such as obesity and diabetes. But the record is mixed on whether those in food deserts would improve their diets if they were given ready access to fresh foods.

Nonetheless, health officials from Washington, D.C., to Jacksonville are taking steps to identify and wipe out food deserts.

Last month the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its online food desert locator, allowing people to search for food deserts by entering an address. Various government agencies will use the information to help direct resources to communities where nutritious food is scarce, said Michele Ver Ploeg, the department economist who conducted the analysis. …


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