Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that you’re a single parent. You’ve got $10 to feed three kids tonight, and you’ve only got 45 minutes to take care of that before you have to run out the door to get to your second job, the one that pays barely above minimum wage. What do you do?
Finding something to eat isn’t necessarily a challenge these days. Finding something to eat with nutritional value, particularly in impoverished areas around America, can be an entirely different matter altogether.
Food insecurity creates an underlying stress that affects nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population. Just over five percent of Americans are considered to have “very low food security,” meaning that food consumption and eating habits of one or more household members was affected negatively because of the financial or accessibility issues. Economic and physical access to “nutritious and safe” food not only promotes general health and well-being, it also helps drive the agricultural market, which is good for the economy.
According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, in 2011, more than 54 percent of the food insecure households used one or more of the larger Federal food and nutrition assistance programs in the month prior to the survey. While urban regions like the New York City and Los Angeles metropolitan areas are clearly home to some of the wealthiest people in the world, the struggling masses in these same places are left to fend for themselves, figuratively grabbing whatever scraps they can to survive. These areas are heavily populated with convenience stores and fast food restaurants that are notable for cheaper, albeit unhealthy options, and smaller ‘’bodega” type corner stores that can’t afford the quality fruits and vegetables needed for a well-rounded diet.
“Food deserts,” as defined by the USDA, are “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.” The USDA judges food access by a one mile radius in urban area but expands that radius to 10 miles in more rural places. There are an estimated 23.5 million people living in American food deserts and more than half of those are considered low income.
“The cost of fresh fruits and vegetables in inner cities is markedly higher than in suburban and rural areas,” explains public health expert Lisa Byrne, MPH, and author of Replenish. “The access is also markedly limited, as fresh produce is not as readily available at food stores throughout many inner city areas. Families with lower incomes also tend to source their food from smaller food markets versus larger food chains in inner cities and these small markets have less inventory of fresh produce and higher costs associated with the produce they do have.”
“Perhaps, though, the most crucial element of the conversation is stress,” Byrne explains. “Living in poverty is stressful. There are chronic stressors families who live in or at the poverty level have that simply do not exist for those who live with higher economic means. Stress is directly linked to obesity. Metabolic, physiological, and biochemical pathways are compromised when an individual lives under chronic stress.”