Across the United States, living in close proximity to healthy food options and fresh markets is linked to lower rates of diabetes, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
In regions with above-average population of people of color, the effect was especially significant given that type 2 diabetes has been shown to disproportionately affect non-white Americans.
According to the latest available data from the American Diabetes Association, the populations at the greatest risk are American Indians and Alaskan Natives (15.9 percent), non-Hispanic blacks (13.2 percent), and Hispanics (12.8 percent).
While this information may seem relatively straightforward, it also highlights the lack of healthful food available to non-white communities across the United States, an issue which directly affects the amount of control an individual has over his or her health.
Food deserts — defined by the USDA as an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food within a mile, or within 10 miles for rural areas — disproportionately affect minorities and the poor, affecting an estimated 23.5 million people living in low-income areas, though this figure is suspected be underreported.
If existing rates of diabetes continue, one-third of the population could be diabetic by 2050, and related fatalities could also increase. Diabetes is currently the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, and even when not fatal, the disease is also linked to complications like kidney damage and limb amputations.
“This study backs up what we’ve known for a long time: you can’t buy what’s not there,” said Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, food systems and health analyst at UCS and lead author of the report.
To expand healthy food options to all Americans, UCS is advocating for a national food policy that takes underserved communities into greater consideration than the mass production of crops for processed foods, like soy and corn.
“This is a complex problem and our study shows that the ‘build a supermarket and they will come’ solution might not be the silver bullet that policy experts hoped for,” said Haynes-Maslow. “Public policies need to also tackle low income residents’ rock bottom wages, unpredictable work schedules, lack of affordable public transportation and many other issues.”